Frontline Marketing

How Drone Racing Is Becoming A Global Brand Opportunity

By | May 17, 2017 |

Brad Foxhoven spent many years in Hollywood turning video games like Heavenly Sword and Ratchet and Clank into computer-generated feature films. These days, he’s running DR1 Racing, a global drone racing company that’s being positioned as a tailor-made opportunity for brands.

The company just added Dell to its list of brand partners, kicking off the relationship in Las Vegas last week at the Dell EMC World event at The Sands. That Micro Series event featured palm-sized drone racing using Tiny Whoops and goggles to pilot through Gotham-inspired skyscrapers.

DR1 Racing is turning this indoor series into a global TV production with title sponsor Air Hogs, which is releasing its own line of lower-priced, entry-level DR1 Racing drones this summer. The pilot for the series featured racing through the actual set of the cult favorite Fox TV show Firefly. The TV series will have a variety of racetrack settings that connect with fans, while also opening up new opportunities for sponsors. And the show will air pre-produced, allowing editors to bring the tiny drones to life in the best possible way—something that a live broadcast wouldn’t be able to deliver at this stage.

“The Micro Series is a great entry point for kids and families,” Foxhoven told AListDaily. “It’s not as daunting as the bigger, faster drones we feature in the Champions Series. This is something that’s a little more approachable for the kids and the parents to participate in. They can learn to fly these drones pretty quickly.”

Beginning in August, Air Hogs will have DR1 Racing drones for $40 and a first-person view version with goggles for $100. In contrast, the Tiny Whoops, which are completely customizable, cost about $200. And when you add in the goggles and controller, the cost rises between $500-to-$600, which is still a lot more affordable than the cost-of-entry for the full-sized drones.

“Our partnership with Air Hogs is multi-tiered because in addition to being a sponsor of the Micro Series, they are also a master toy license partner,” Foxhoven explained. “We’re trying to go after demographic of kids that are anywhere from 8-to-14-year-old boys and girls that are a little more tech savvy, but also want to be more exploratory in nature and pick up and fly something that’s a little bit more technologically advanced than any other product that they’re used to.”

Foxhoven sees this young drone racing demographic crossing over with esports fans.

“What you’re seeing with these kids, and this new audience, is that they want a sport of their own,” Foxhoven said. “When they look at some of these traditional sports, whether it be NASCAR or golf or tennis, those are their grandfathers’ or fathers’ sports. They’re looking at esports as something that they can have as their own that really speaks to their generation and their core, and drone racing really fits in with that. You’re wearing a set of goggles, so it’s similar to VR. You have a controller that reminds them of a game controller and you’re racing this environment that feels like you’re in a living, breathing video game with Micro Series or Champion Series. It taps into that feeling you get from competitive racing environments like Need for Speed or Gran Turismo. The people that find competitive gaming exciting and enjoyable will also look at drone racing in that same kind of way.”

Sponsors are already lining up. Out of the gate, DR1 Racing partnered with Mountain Dew and Doritos for an event. The company also worked with Buffalo Wild Wings. And now Dell and Air Hogs are on board. Foxhoven said nine-out-of-10 sponsors or partners that DR1 Racing has signed (many of which have yet to be announced) are endemics.

“We’ve had some really sizable partners that have come in and looked at this as something that allows them to reach a new audience that is kind of now finding new ways to enjoy themselves through competition in this technologically advanced world,” Foxhoven said.

Drone racing teams are already forming for DR1 Racing events. And they’re partnering with brands that will be worn on pilots’ jerseys for the televised competitions.

“You’ll see these brands on the jerseys much like esports and even like professional racing with NASCAR and F1,” Foxhoven said. “These things that are created are going to be designed for sponsors to have visibility on hats and jerseys and drones, as well as have visibility in and around the race itself.”

DR1 Racing has over 100 countries that are signed up as broadcast partners for this year and next. Foxhoven said this means that, globally, the company has the broadest reach of any drone racing organization that’s out there.

“But it’s not just the broadcast side, it’s the digital side as well,” Foxhoven said. “We certainly stream things on Twitch. We have an ecosystem that has a live component that people can immerse themselves in this world and find it wherever they are, so they don’t have to go to broadcast and find it there. They have elements that can be found on digital as well, so both sides are really important to this audience.”

Essentially, DR1 Racing is in the early stages of creating a new sport, so Foxhoven said a lot of these features need to be specifically done in a way that’s enjoyable for the audience.

“We’re trying to do a whole bunch of things to be appealing to how people are consuming content,” Foxhoven explained. “We need to approach it really strategically so we will have the live component, we will have the in-person experience and we’ll have the broadcast component later on. So those who want to consume the races live can do that, but they can also enjoy the ‘on tape’ broadcast version later on.”

With esports events already selling out NBA and soccer stadiums around the globe, Foxhoven has no doubt that drone racing will fill up stadiums in the future.

“When you go and you witness drone racing first-hand and you feel the excitement, you see the adrenaline of the pilots that are participating, and you can actually put on these goggles and see it in first-person as well, that’s an amazing experience,” Foxhoven said. “Every person that we’ve shown this to walks away saying, ‘Yeah, I would watch that again.’”

Foxhoven said drone racing does have an advantage over many esports games.

“Drone racing is easier to understand than a League of Legends tournament or a Dota 2 championship,” Foxhoven explained. “You understand how people are racing and who’s finished first and who finished last and you get to see the pilots in action. There are a lot of appealing elements that transcend traditional sports, in general, but converge with the gaming elements.”

DR1 Racing will also expand its brand into the video game realm. The company has plans to release a game that will target the mainstream audience.

“People are not familiar with drone racing on a mass level,” Foxhoven said. “They’re coming into it new, so you have a lot of education and explanation that needs to occur. People learned about skateboarding and snowboarding through games featuring Tony Hawk and Sean White. The games got them interested in trying it out in real life and going to events, so we see a video game as a great opportunity for us to educate a broader audience about the potential of drone racing.”