The Worldwide Leader In Drone Racing? Drone racing has been picking up plenty of popularity recently, with races in NFL stadiums and other events drawing significant attention. Now, ESPN is set to broadcast some drone-racing events, announcing a multi-year international deal with the International Drone Racing Association:

“Drone racing gives anyone the ability to fly like a superhero,” says Dr. Scot Refsland, Chairman of the IDRA. “Because everyone can experience the thrill of racing as if they were sitting in the drone cockpit, the sport is skyrocketing.  To go from a first ever, US national drone race to partnering with ESPN for international distribution in eight months is truly a sign of great things ahead.”

The first IDRA event to be showcased by ESPN, the 2016 U.S. National Drone Racing Championships, will crown the coveted title of fastest drone pilot in the United States. The race will be held on Governors Island, New York City, August 5-7, offering jaw-dropping views of both lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. The U.S. National Drone Racing Championships will have an enjoyable summer festival atmosphere that racing fans appreciate—family entertainment, a ‘makers’ style drone racing area for kids, state-of-the-art technology, food, drink, and drone vendors.

“We look forward to providing drone racing fans a larger platform to access this exciting world,” said Matthew Volk, ESPN Director, Programming & Acquisitions. “Drone racing is an opportunity to reach and connect with a growing and passionate audience.”

Here’s a video promoting the championships:

As James Vincent of The Verge notes, this is potentially a big step for drone racing:

The sport is certainly building momentum. Drone racing leagues of all shapes and sizes have been springing up around the world, videos of talented pilots rack up big view counts on YouTube, and just this March, a British teenager won $250,000 after taking first place in the inaugural World Drone Prix in Dubai. Proponents of the sport say it’ll only get more exciting as video streaming improves, and 360-degree footage and VR headsets are added to the mix.

It’s worth remembering that this deal is small in the wider context of ESPN, and the network is presumably taking a chance on drone racing in case it does just turn out to be the next big thing. (It’s made similar deals broadcasting e-sports events in the past too.) But still, it’s an impressive step forward for a sport that barely existed three years ago. As IDRA chairman Scot Refsland said in a press statement: “To go from a first ever, US national drone race to partnering with ESPN for international distribution in eight months is truly a sign of great things ahead.”

ESPN’s going into this in quite a limited way on the television side to start, covering the August U.S. championships and the October world championships both as just a condensed after-the-fact one-hour special on TV, but they’ll be providing full coverage of both on ESPN3. What’s perhaps particularly notable here, though, is that ESPN isn’t producing this content itself:

IDRA is represented by its partner Generate LA, which will be producing the content for ESPN.

Peabody and Emmy award winner David Gavant has signed on as Executive Producer for the events. Most recently, Gavant served as Vice President, Executive In Charge of Production and Executive Producer for MLB Productions. Under his direction, MLB Productions has been honored with more than 30 Emmy Awards. David’s vast experience includes producing shows for ESPN, NBC Sports, and winning two National Emmy Awards as a live events Producer for both the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.

ESPN does broadcast some content it doesn’t produce itself, but it’s certainly not the norm, especially when that content is league-produced. This probably makes sense in this context, though, especially as what will be broadcast on TV is such a small portion of the overall content here.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this goes for ESPN, as this is a further stride into unusual content for them. In some ways, it’s similar to what they’ve done with eSports, looking at what’s popular that they’re not yet covering. eSports wasn’t a winner on the TV ratings side, though: will drone racing do better there? Let’s just hope that no one brings anti-drone bazookas

[ESPN Media Zone]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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