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ESPN airs the US National Drone Racing Championships

A drone racing enthusiast prepares a racing drone at the 2016 CeBIT digital technology trade fair on March 14, 2016 in Hanover, Germany. First-person view drone racing, in which the pilot wears goggles to give him the live view from a camera mounted on the drone, is growing rapidly in popularity with racing leagues in many different countries. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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The National Drone Racing Championships start today in New York. It’s the second time the race will be held, but the first time ESPN will broadcast the event. If you’re a broadcaster like ESPN, you’ve got options (there are many different kinds of sports, after all).  So why drone racing? Well, it turns out poker plays a hand.

“I never really thought of poker as much of a sport, until you could make a million dollars playing it, and then [have] ESPN televising it,” said Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis. “That just shows you, if there’s money on the line, and if you have a passionate fan base out there, then you’re going to have viewers.”

ESPN wants those viewers. Especially young ones. Like the kind who guzzle down energy drinks while Snapchat-ing about cord cutting. They generally don’t bother to subscribe to old-fashioned cable. 

Ray Katz, a managing partner with ROI Sports Marketing Group, notes that “banks and insurance companies want to reach consumers when they’re younger. Men’s and women’s grooming companies want to reach consumers when they’re younger.”

The new sport has been growing fast. And coverage from a network like ESPN could mean a spurt. Notes Katz, “it gives it instant credibility.” Depending on licensing agreements, fans may want to own replicas — racing drones of their own. 

I see this as being a tremendous consumer product opportunity,” he said.

One-hundred-twenty pilots participated in last year’s race. Fourteen hundred tried to qualify this year. 

So no matter what the outcome of the race for the 145 pilots who will compete this weekend, for the sport – it’s a win for drone racing and ESPN.

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