Does drone racing have what it takes to be a sport? Billionaire property developer and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross thinks it might, and has invested $1 million in the first round of funding for New York startup The Drone Racing League via his investment firm RSE Ventures, reports The Wall Street Journal. Like similar organizations, the League races small drones that can hit speeds of up to 70 mph and are flown with the aid of goggles that transmit a live video feed from the craft to the pilot (also known as FPV or first-person view racing). The startup has already held a small trial run with six pilots in a warehouse in Yonkers this summer, and is planning to hold its first public race later this year, collecting revenue from ticket sales, sponsorship, and media deals.
"It touches on the heritage of racing."
Both Ross and The Drone Racing League have experience in coordinating new sporting events. Nick Horbaczewski, the League's CEO, previously worked as chief revenue officer for endurance race company Tough Mudder, and RSE Ventures currently runs the International Champions Cup — an international soccer tournament that plays host to teams such as Manchester United and Real Madrid. "I felt [drone racing] could be a sport that resonated with people because it touches on the heritage of racing, but also brings in the benefits of new technology," Horbaczewski told the WSJ.
The Drone Racing League isn't the only organization trying to shape what is currently a niche hobby into a more mainstream sport. Earlier this year, a two-day event called the US National Drone Racing Championships took place at the California State Fair, attracting 120 pilots and offering $25,000 in cash prizes. Similar, smaller races have also been held in France, Australia, and the UK.
However, big challenges remain for organizers, including making the sport more spectator-friendly. Videos of drone racing on YouTube may rack up millions of views, but at the two-day competition in California only an estimated 60 spectators showed up to watch. Although this was partly blamed on the heat, watching drone racing in person is difficult because of the small size and speed of the aircraft. RSE Ventures, however, might have a ready-made solution. The firm has already developed a service named FanVision that gives NASCAR spectators access to live video feeds from race cars on their smartphones. Using this technology to offer drone racing fans access to pilots' video feeds could help the would-be sport attract interest on the ground, as well as online.
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