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March 20, 2018

Drone racing has reached a point at which it’s fairly commonly being referred to as a sport. Though it’s still on the rise, this activity – supported primarily by the Drone Racing League, or DRL – has gained a significant audience, and is even being shown on the leading sports network on television. ESPN is expected to show the third season of DRL sometime this summer.

But there are still a few more factors that will tell us when DRL has, unofficially, caught on in a bigger way. At this point it’s still something of a niche sport with a cult following. But keep an eye on these factors if you’re hoping for it to become a bigger deal.

New Airtimes & Streaming

Right now, though the DRL is being shown on television, it’s not exactly a priority for networks. And to be clear, it can’t be expected to overtake mainstream, traditional sports, at least not in the foreseeable future. But if drone racing moves even marginally into more regular or accessible airtimes, or onto ESPN proper, it will be an indication that the audience is growing. Similarly, if we see a DRL streaming app released, we’ll know the league is taking aggressive steps to grow its audience. This is something that was tried by the WWE, and later on by UFC as well, and it’s a good way for slightly off-center sports to become more accessible (and by extension more popular).

More Betting Opportunities

Simply put, serious sports come with betting opportunities, and we’ve only just started to see a market emerging for drone racing. This is actually particularly difficult to keep track of given that a lot of drone racing activity is in the U.S., and sports betting is largely illegal there. However, if you’re curious, keep an eye on Canadian markets, where you can find the best odds for any event and see anything new that might come up. Bookmakers have gotten on board the drone racing train, but if we start to see more publicity about it, and more betting opportunities, it will be a good sign that the sport is continuing to rise.

Bigger Stars

Unless you’ve already made an effort to get into the DRL, chances are you can’t name a pilot. This despite the fact that these pilots can already earn contracts of up to $100,000 to fly drones professionally (and these contracts are only going to get bigger). Eventually though one or two people – whether by skill, success, character antics, or some combination of the three – will likely rise to enjoy some level of celebrity status. Think of Tony Hawk in skateboarding, Shaun White in snowboarding, Ronda Rousey in UFC, or even people like Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu in poker. They all added some celebrity flavor to their respective sports and raised the sports’ profiles as a result.

Regardless of any of these factors, it’s a sport on the rise. But these will be some of the indicators if it’s really going to become a major business and spectator activity.

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