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The Drone Racing League Charts a New Course for the Future of AI-Driven Sports

January 18, 2024

The Drone Racing League (DRL) is revolutionizing the sports world by integrating cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) into its core––a literal game-changing endeavor that is setting the stage for a thrilling new era of tech-driven sports and entertainment. 

Much more than a marketing strategy, DRL's use of AI represents a visionary leap into a fast-approaching future, where AI comprises a foundational element of professional sports. By fusing AI with drone racing, DRL is blazing a trail in sports technology innovation and steadily building a young, tech-savvy audience––namely Gen Z, whose taste in sports is decidedly digitally focused. 

According to DRL data, 70% of the league’s fans don’t follow traditional Big 5 sports leagues, and 83% are under age 35, highlighting the league's appeal to a new generation. DRL's global presence, reaching 90 million fans, and burgeoning social media clout––including more than 5 million fans on TikTok, 1 million subs on Youtube, and and 2 million followers on WhatsApp – after META CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned DRL was one of his favorite sports to follow. DRL continues to further its reach among these “tech-setter” enthusiasts, who contributed to 1 billion DRL social video views last season.

Millions of these DRL fans tune in to watch the world’s best drone pilots race on platforms including YouTube, TikTok, and a range of international sports networks in 320M households across 170 markets globally. Future-focused brands eager to align themselves with innovation are partnering with DRL: The U.S. Air Force (its longest-running deal) renewed its DRL partnership for the 7th year in a row to support its drone pilot and tech talent recruitment efforts. Telecommunication giant T-Mobile (which also partners with MLB, Austin City Limits, and F1 Las Vegas) inked a 5G drone development deal with the league in 2020 to showcase the reliability of its 5G network and create immersive drone content with DRL Pilots. Draftkings and FanDuel were early adopters of the league, giving DRL fans the opportunity to bet for the first time on an aerial sport.

Creating singular experiences that engage its young, tech-savvy fanbase is the driving force behind DRL's AI initiatives. One notable example: DRL’s Race in the Cloud Presented by Google Cloud, which debuted following the September 2022 announcement of the league’s partnership with the tech titan. The second edition of the event last October transformed traditional racing into interactive, branded experiences,  enabling global developers access real-time race data and predictive analytics on Google Cloud’s platform to help DRL Pilots optimize their performance. Enhancing the racing strategy and boosting spectator engagement, the collaboration underscores DRL's commitment to use technology to foster a deeper, more interactive, and unprecedented fan experience.

“Powering a fleet of drones is the 21st century dream marketing asset. At the Drone Racing League, we love creating cutting edge partnerships with brands that want to invest in innovation, engage next-gen fans and level the playing field through inclusive, tech-driven competition,” said DRL President Rachel Jacobson. “Our drones are the stars of the show, and as we look to reimagine the future of sports entertainment, we’re excited to develop our first all-electric smart drone for a brand to own – integrating A.I. to create the fastest drones in the world.”

A standout component of DRL's dazzling technological journey is its Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing (AIRR) Circuit. Here, AI-powered, self-flying drones compete in a series of races without GPS, data relay, or human intervention, offering a fascinating glimpse into machine-learning capabilities as AI closes the gap with human performance. The circuit is more than just a high-octane example of next-generation sporting events––it's a real-world testing ground for a future when self-guided systems can operate in all complex flying environments, and testament to the league's unwavering dedication to pushing the boundaries of AI within sports.

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