The Drone Racing League announced Wednesday that it has signed a deal with ESPN and ESPN 2 to broadcast its 10-episode season, starting this Thursday.
This is the first American deal for the organization, which also signed deals with Sky Sports Mix and 7Sports in Europe. The news comes after ESPN signed a multi-year media distribution deal with the International Drone Racing League, in May.
“Coverage of DRL lets us merge storytelling, technology, and competition into compelling weekly content that we believe will appeal to a growing audience,” said Matthew Volk, ESPN’s director of programming and acquisitions in a story for ESPN.com.
A venture into drone racing is the latest of ESPN’s attempts to break into the $900 million and growing e-sports market.
Here’s a drone racing primer: Pilots race the quadcopters at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour and whoever collects the most points based on navigation of the course wins. Both fans and pilots will see the race from a first-person cockpit view, made possible by cameras inside of the drones.
While the move is big news for the league, it doesn’t necessarily mean a windfall for racers, who still often rely on sponsors like Mountain Dew and their own money to compete. The model isn’t drastically different from traditional racing leagues, like NASCAR, but with broadcast deals just beginning and audience numbers still low, lucrative sponsorships are still far down the pipeline. The DRL has a backing of $12 million with investors including owners of both the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Cavaliers.
IDRA founder Scot Refsland told Inverse in May that he hopes increased exposure of the sport will “give a lot of the government agencies an understanding of what it means to do a drone race or drone sport in any particular area – whether it’s urban or in the middle of a field.”
The 10-episode season begins with ESPN2’s introduction to drone racing at 11 p.m. on Thursday. The competition season will begin October 23, with episodes airing on Thursday and Saturday nights. The championship match will air on November 20.