With the emergence of drones as recreational racing tools, it's no surprise that a sport has begun to emerge. The Drone Racing League uses high-powered drones, mounted cameras, and some virtual reality technology to create an experience that's competitive for pilots and engaging for fans. As of now, approaching the end of 2017, the DRL is still relatively obscure, at least insofar as mainstream sports go. However, it may be a little bit more popular than you realize just yet.
Following what amounted to a successful trial run beforehand, ESPN aired a drone racing series last October, with competitions spread out over the course of a 10-episode series. The event culminated in the DRL World Championships, which were held on November 20th, 2016. Throughout the season, Bud Light also partnered with the DRL specifically to finance first-person viewing (which speaks to the notion of virtual reality mentioned previously). If you've ever tuned in for a race on ESPN, you may have noticed that camera views switch, sometimes showing the perspective of an actual drone, and sometimes showing a full course, with numerous drones zipping around.
It's hard to quantify or state with any true clarity how well the DRL did in its first season on ESPN. However, looking at the ratings, it's clear that for at least one stretch in October, DRL outperformed some more conventional sporting broadcasts, including Bassmasters, UEFA Champions League soccer, rugby, and the MLS. That's not to say it was any sort of juggernaut it was still on the lower end for ESPN programs but it enough people watched to convince ESPN to give it another go in the summer of 2017.
What changed this summer, however, wasn't just that DRL got another run on television with the support of the world's biggest sports broadcasting company. Rather, it was that the betting industry finally got on board. A year ago, representatives from this industry were suggesting they wanted to see how drone racing did before making it a sport by their standards. Now, those concerns seem to be disappearing. This summer, after keeping an eye on the market for over two years, Betfair became the first UK online betting site to offer odds on drone racing - and they weren't alone. Seemingly overnight, this became an accepted activity at betting sites, which opens up new revenue streams surrounding the sport.
It may not seem particularly significant at a glance, particularly if you aren't one to bet on sports anyway (or if you're reading from a place where such activity is prohibited by law). But sports betting is a massive industry, and the inclusion of drone racing at major platforms is a major development in the DRL's quest for legitimacy. If firms are confident enough to open books related to the DRL, it indicates they're relatively sure that this sport isn't done growing.