Here’s a promising sign that drone racing (and the broader drone industry) is breaking into mass appeal: DRL viewership doubled in its latest season.
The Drone Racing League, which is the largest group of drone racers that just came off of its 2021-22 Algorand World Championship event said viewership for the series doubled this season. DRL claims their races reached 250 million households in over 140 markets worldwide across the series.
DRL aired its 2021-22 DRL World Algorand Championship Season race over the past weekend on NBC and Twitter in the U.S. Internationally, races aired on six continents and across 13 sports networks including NBC Sports, Sky Sports, FOX Sports and FOX Sports Australia, ESPN in Brazil, StarTimes, Sony TV, Eleven Sports, beIN SPORT, TrueVisions, O2 TV, eGG Network, ran.de, and Viaplay.
And for the cord-cutters of the world, DRL also streamed their season on Twitter, ran.de, Viaplay, Star+, Weibo and Yhizibo, which are various streaming and social networks around the world. Over on TikTok, DRL saw 400% growth in the past year.
Perhaps more notably: some of the biggest networks like NBC Sports, devoted significant air time to drone racing (NBC aired 60% more hours of drone racing this season versus last season). And between NBC Sports and Twitter, DRL secured 30 hours of original 2021 programming during primetime slots, including a race on Christmas Day.
“As a leading tech-enabled sport widely regarded for disrupting the sports industry, DRL’s scale underscores how technology-based competition has reached a fever pitch,” according to a prepared statement from DRL.
So who actually is watching drone racing? The DRL viewership is primarily young, tech-obsessed fans. DRL is calling them “tech-setters,” referring to a group of people who don’t necessarily follow traditional sports or even other esports for that matter, but do love tech-powered sports like drone racing, or even drone sports such as drone soccer, for that matter.
Its fans are highly plugged into social media, which isn’t surprising given that races aired on Twitter. DRL has also benefited from the increased usage of TikTok, where it airs clips. Across TikTok (not specific to simply the DRL channel), usage grew 59.8% in 2020, followed by 40.8% in 2021, according to TechCrunch. And according to Sensor Tower, TikTok reached a milestone in July 2021 by becoming the second non-gaming app (Facebook is the first) to reach 3 billion downloads globally across the Apple App Store and Google Play.
The U.S. is certainly DRL’s biggest market, but DRL’s second-biggest market is China. For what it’s worth, given China’s giant population, that’s not completely surprising until you hear this out. This season, DRL viewership tripled in China. For context, U.S. viewership grew on Twitter by 20%.
When ranked by “global awareness”, which is a metric that factors in international broadcast agreements, new global partnerships, and new ways for fans to engage with the sport, DRL is projected to rise. The league already got a 25% lift from the prior year.
What caused the growth in DRL viewership?
It’s tough to direct the massive growth in DRL viewership to just one cause. Its leadership says A-list talent recruitment, in-depth fan research, and innovative partnerships with top global brands and media platforms is all a part of it. The massive global distribution network, especially in the U.S. and China, also helped to double DRL’s reach and fanbase.
DRL has also benefited from the rising interest in blockchain — and has capitalized on it so much as to incorporate blockchain platform Algorand into its drone races. Algorand, which has Title rights of the DRL World Championship circuit over the next five years, enables fans to purchase blockchain-enabled tickets, collectibles and other transactions.
DRL has also put in work to grow the sport outside of just hosting races with top-tier players. It’s built products with appeal to newbie or aspiring pro racers, which in turn has likely helped grow interest in the championship events. At the end of 2021, a Drone Racing League mobile game launched — and it’s free for download in the iOS and Android app stores. Just a few months prior, the Drone Racing League launched its first-ever 5G DRL racing drone, which makes it possible to live stream high-definition racing footage.
And even though DJI is a competitor to DRL in some ways, it seems that a rising tide lifts all boats — or drones, in this case. In early 2021, DJI announced its first-ever FPV drone, bringing drone racing to the masses with a ready-to-fly racing drone. Aptly named the ‘DJI FPV’, this drone — priced at $1,299 — is largely ready for takeoff right out of the box. Many experts suggest that the DJI FPV might also have been the golden ticket to bringing drone racing to the masses by putting an easy-to-use racing drone in practically anyone’s hands.
What is DRL?
For the uninitiated, DRL is short for the Drone Racing League, and it’s a massive entertainment conglomerate of products, personalities, live races and viewable shows.
During the 2021-22 DRL Algorand World Championship Season, competitive drone pilots raced in multiple courses in both iconic sports arenas and on the DRL SIM virtual maps, aiming to dominate 14 Levels of racing and ultimately be crowned the World Champion.
The league was founded all the way back in 2015 by Nicholas Horbaczewski. Since then, DRL has raised millions of dollars in funding from investors including Hearst Ventures, CAA Ventures, Muse lead singer Matthew Bellamy and Miami Dolphin’s owner Stephen Ross’s venture-capital firm RSE Ventures. In 2020, DRL appointed Rachel Jacobson as president. Jacobson brought with her 21 years of NBA experience, including a line on her resume as NBA SVP of Global Partnerships.