The Drone Racing League Moves Its Broadcast Rights From ESPN to NBC

The World Championship will also be livestreamed on Twitter

Pilots race their identical, custom-built drones at speeds over 90 miles per hour Drone Racing League

The Drone Racing League (DRL) flew its broadcast rights from ESPN to NBC and NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) and picked up a livestreaming pact with Twitter along the way.

The 2019 DRL Allianz World Championship Season will air on NBC and be livestreamed on Twitter on Sunday, Aug. 11, at 2 p.m. ET, and more than 44 hours of DRL coverage will follow on NBC and NBCSN.

Nicholas Horbaczewski, founder and CEO of DRL, said the league “had a great three-year partnership with ESPN” and credited the sports network for being a key factor in its growth, with over 57 million fans tuning in during those three seasons.

He added that DRL was drawn to NBC due to its heritage with racing sports such as Nascar, IndyCar and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, as well as the network’s history of being forward-thinking about developing relationships with newer properties.

The DRL deal adds to Twitter’s ever-growing stack of sports content.

Since the start of 2018, the social network has reached agreements covering livestreaming and other content with major sports like the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, and the National Football League, among others.

DRL’s high-speed, minute-long heats will be livestreamed via @DroneRaceLeague, where fans can follow along as pilots race their identical, custom-built drones at speeds of over 90 miles per hour.

The races take place in venues around the world such as palaces, museums and stadiums, and the 3D courses pilots must navigate include dives, inverted loops and sharp turns.

Horbaczewski said DRL will take a different approach to digital distribution than it does with linear television and, while he could not share specific plans with the start of the season five months away, the league will “take full advantage of existing and new Twitter features” to provide unique, behind-the-scenes content, such as looks into the psychology of pilots.

“When you can pair content with conversation in real-time, it’s hard to beat that,” he added. “We have the ability to bring so much more content to our fans. Having multiple channels gives you a broader canvas.”

At Adweek’s Challenger Brands event in February, Horbaczewski detailed creative ways that DRL integrates brands into its events, including the Swatch Gate, a large watch that drones fly through during key parts of races, and a partnership with Lockheed Martin to pit human-piloted drones against drones controlled via artificial intelligence.

Horbaczewski could not offer specifics on advertising agreements or ways that brands will be incorporated into DRL’s Twitter livestreams, but he did say, “Twitter provides an incredible platform for integrating brands in an authentic way into the content. We will definitely be announcing some new partners around content on Twitter.”

DRL entered a new broadcast market in digital-only fashion for the first time last month, when the league reached a streaming agreement with China’s Youku.

The pact gave fans in China access to the 2016-18 Allianz World Championship Seasons via Youku’s video-on-demand platforms, in first-person view format and DRL. Youku also said they would look to add Chinese pilots to the competitions via a private tryout race in the U.S. for 2019 and a livestreamed esports tournament on the DRL Simulator for 2020.

Horbaczewski expanded further on the possibilities brought about by the league’s agreement with Twitter, saying that the content to be developed for the platform is a reaction to what fans have expressed interest in, such as working directly with pilots to show them out in the world with drones.

“People are fascinated by the drones, the radio systems and the technology,” he said. “We haven’t had a platform in the past to dive deep into this—not just to bookend live broadcast, but to bring fans novel content that wasn’t possible with linear networks.” David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.