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By Jessica Toonkel
NEW YORK Oct 4 Eurosport, Discovery
Communications Inc's European sports broadcaster, is
in talks with potential partners to broadcast drone racing,
making it the latest network looking to experiment with the
fledgling sport in which contestants navigate small,
remote-controlled aircraft at high speeds through aerial
For television networks and advertisers, drone racing
represents an opportunity to combine the live-event attraction
of NASCAR and Formula 1 with the digital-age appeal of what has
become known as eSports, in which video game players compete
while millions of viewers watch online, usually for free.
Eurosport would join Disney Corp's ESPN, British
broadcaster Sky Plc, and Germany's ProSiebenSat.1
, all of which have recently signed on to broadcast
races by the 15-month-old Drone Racing League. Sky also agreed
to invest $1 million in the league.
On top of that, the league has partnered with MGM
Television, run by Mark Burnett, to develop a reality series
about the pilots.
"We think it's an area worth us paying attention to and to
test on audiences," Peter Hutton, chief executive of Eurosport,
told Reuters in an interview.
Eurosport, a pan-European sports media group that Discovery
bought last year, has 228 million subscribers in 93 countries in
Europe, Asia and Australia.
While the network typically focuses on traditional sports
like tennis and soccer, drone racing has "potential for sporting
credibility," Hutton said, declining to elaborate on discussions
with drone leagues.
NICHE OR MORE?
It is by no means certain the novel sport will be a
money-maker for TV networks.
ESPN has not paid for the rights to broadcast drone races,
according to two sources familiar with the matter. Instead, the
network is sharing ad revenue with the leagues, the sources
Such agreements align the interest of the network with the
leagues, said Nicholas Horbaczewski, CEO and founder of the
Drone Racing League, based in New York City.
The Drone Racing League, the only professional league in the
emerging sport, is finalizing TV distribution deals in other
markets worth millions of dollars, according to another source
familiar with the situation, who asked to remain anonymous
because the conversations were confidential.
An ESPN spokeswoman declined to comment.
Sky invested in Drone Racing League alongside a number of
other investors including RSE Ventures, the New York-based
venture capital firm of Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross; and
Lerer Hippeau Ventures, owned by media gurus Eric Hippeau and
The league said it has raised over $12 million since its
creation in 2015.
One factor that could limit the sport's appeal is that most
drone racing on TV has been shown on a tape delay, to allow for
editing to capture the most compelling visuals. The races, where
small drones fly around courses in empty warehouses, stadiums
and other venues, can be hard to follow for viewers watching
Since an attraction for most sports programming is that the
contests are broadcast as they happen, it remains to be seen
whether large numbers of fans will want to watch races after the
"Delays don't really fly anymore," said Daniel Glantz,
global head of sponsorship at insurer American International
Group Inc, which sponsored the amateur Drone Sports
Association's National Championships in August, though it did
not run ads during the event.
The sport's boosters say it is only a matter of time until
the networks and leagues - there are now a handful of drone
racing leagues in the United States, Europe and Asia - figure
out how to effectively air the races live.
On the other hand, Drone Racing League's Horbaczewski said
presenting races in a more produced format is the best way to
attract new fans, and that live races are not vital. "There are
a lot of sports that don't go live off the bat," he said. "Look
at professional poker."
Fox Sports is waiting for the sport to evolve to see which
leagues or organizations prove to be the best partner before
agreeing to broadcast races, said David Nathanson, head of
business operations at 21st Century Fox Inc's Fox
So far, the TV audience for drone races has been small. Only
223,000 people watched the U.S. Drone Racing Nationals
broadcast on Sept. 18 on ESPN, according to Nielsen, which
tracks viewer data.
That is tiny compared to the 13 million viewers on average
that watch Monday night NFL games last season, but is in line
with the 264,000 viewers on average who tuned into an episode
of Turner Sports' first season of its ELeague televised video
gaming competition last summer.
"I think what took 10 years for eSports to get to will only
take two to three for drone racing," said Keith Strier, a
digital strategy head at Ernst & Young, which sponsored the 2016
National Drone Racing Championships and is considering
sponsoring a drone team or organization. "eSports has paved the
(Reporting By Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Eric Effron, David
Gregorio and Bill Rigby)