A series of title sponsors are doubling down on DR1 Racing’s second season in the drone racing circuit.
The Champions Series will air internationally in over 100 countries on Eurosport, Fox Sports Asia and Twitch and will be backed by brands like DHL, Mountain Dew and Spin Master, makers of the Air Hogs drones.
The racing series—officially dubbed as the “DHL Champions Series fueled by Mountain Dew”—will pit five teams in six separate outdoor races in the Trona Pinnacles and The Mojave Bone Yard in California, a 3D skyscraper race in Bonn, Germany, Ireland’s historic Bunowen Castle and Spike Island and the Marine Drive on the Isle of Man throughout October and November.
Leading into the airing of the series, the US Army will be sponsoring the Twitch show DR1 Drone Tech.
Each partner has its own reasons to join in on the drone marketing. For Mountain Dew, it’s about connecting their consumers with an emerging sport that embraces their brand ethos. For DHL, it’s about delivering experiences in compelling formats while leveraging their specialty in logistics. For Spin Master, it’s about legitimizing their drone racing toy line at retail and broadening the access to the sport.
AListDaily united the quartet of executives instrumental for the deal—Brad Foxhoven, founder of DR1 Racing, Arjan Sissing, DHL’s senior vice president and director of global brand marketing, Manos Spanos, Mountain Dew’s senior director of global marketing and Kate Keller, global business unit lead for Spin Master—to discuss in detail how drone racing will be doused in their respective marketing dockets.
What kind of validation are sponsors and TV deals bringing to DR1 Racing?
Foxhoven: Dew and DHL are well-known sponsors, particularly in the racing and extreme sports areas. Their support of DR1, as well as the Champions Series, acknowledges that this sport is for real and DR1’s racing series should be taken very seriously. Each brand saw a unique opportunity with DR1, knowing that it’s a more authentic racing platform by having the drone races in these amazing outdoor locations. The biggest shift from last year is that more consumers are flying, whether it’s with pure racing quads that they’ve built, or consumer-friendly drones like the ones coming out from Air Hogs. The more people see drone racing content, the more likely they will try it themselves and participate in the culture as a whole.
Spanos: As with any “new sport,” drone racing needs mainstream brands and TV deals in order to become more approachable, more widely known and understood by fans. Our hope is that we can drive even more attention to the sport, and generate excitement amongst our fans that have an existing love for sports that carry similar characteristics to drone racing, like esports or racing. Drone racing generates that same high-action, on-your-tiptoes type of excitement that you find in NASCAR or Formula 1 and fuses it with the competitive, gamified action of esports.
Sissing: For DHL, it’s about sharing the same innovative technology and values—like speed, passion, precision, sustainability and teamwork. Drone racing represents an exciting new e-racing series, using innovative technologies. It’s also fast and green. In the past year, drones have become more accessible to more people—with lower prices and more available technology, almost everyone can afford to buy a drone and play with it.
Why are you interested in bringing brand credibility to the sport of drone racing by partnering with DR1 Racing?
Spanos: Mountain Dew is a brand that instigates and pushes the boundaries of what’s possible, so it was a natural fit for us to be involved in a sport that accomplishes those two things, and do so with a partner in DR1 Racing that brings the most elite pilots and competitions to the sport. We’re certain that the Dew Nation will love the high-speed action, adrenaline and competitiveness of the sport.
Keller: Drone racing, and DR1’s racing series specifically, have proven themselves as legitimate contenders in the competitive racing sports category with a growing international fan base. Through the expertise and emerging technologies of our Air Hogs brand, Spin Master is ready to kickstart this partnership, enhancing the racing experience at the DHL Champions Series while making drone racing an accessible sport for kids of all ages.
Sissing: DHL has an extensive history in developing innovative and sustainable approaches toward future logistics solutions. DHL has been developing and testing drones like the Parcelcopter for more than four years as a delivery option for rural, remote and traffic-congested areas. Drones are an important technology within logistics today and will remain so in the future—at least for specific situations. As a pioneer in express shipping, it’s just logical for DHL to be a frontrunner and first logistics company in this new sport.
Will you look to maximize on your drone racing marketing by heading into esports, too?
Spanos: Mountain Dew has a strong footing in esports already through the sponsorship of three professional esports teams—Dignitas, Splyce and SK—as well as the creation of the Mountain Dew League (MDL) that gives amateur gamers the opportunity to become pros. However, it’s not a coincidence that we’re involved in both esports and drone racing as both have crossover appeal between audiences, and they are a natural fit for our brand.
What kind of marketing activations will we see? What’s the game plan?
Foxhoven: Each partner will be doing various levels of support. DHL has created an amazing commercial that shows the evolution of racing. Air Hogs has a commercial that features the Air Hogs DR1 Race Drone, alongside top pilots Johnny Schaer and Luke Bannister, as well as a digital promotion with a wide selection of drone pilots. Mountain Dew is releasing various digital pieces of content that feature Luke Bannister, who is now a Dew-sponsored pilot.
Spanos: As with most sports, fan love for the sport extends to the players, or in this case the pilots. We’re excited to be partnering with Luke Bannister to bring his elite level of play to the forefront, while also getting fans closer to his personality. We’ll also be heavily supporting the Champions Series, arguably the most competitive drone racing series in the world, and expanding the reach of this burgeoning sport.
What has been the biggest challenge in marketing drone racing? What are consumers having a hard time understanding?
Foxhoven: The biggest challenge is in the education of the sport as a whole. There are varying degrees of drones being flown, new pilots to meet and know, and formats for the races themselves. Is drone racing indoors or outside? During the day or night? Are there teams or single pilots? For DR1, it’s the belief that real drone racing is done outside. The team format for Champions Series allows for more action on the location, more interaction between the pilots, and a setting that makes the view on screen really unique.
What are some other marketing avenues brands have not tapped into yet?
Foxhoven: The brands have been smart in their approach, and have found creative ways to become integrated into the DR1 racing ecosystem. The teams and pilots themselves continue to be the best opportunity, particularly as it relates to the creation of great digital content, and opportunities to apply their experience and knowledge to various creative initiatives.
Keller: At Spin Master, we believe that drone racing can give consumers of all ages the opportunity to explore the world from a new vantage point, such as the first person view from the cockpit, and by turning real world environments into racecourses. This fall, DR1 and Air Hogs are encouraging kids to turn their world into a racecourse by sharing their races and experiences through the record-and-share function within the product. Drone racing is a budding sport, and we’ll bring compelling content to kids of all ages on the traditional broadcast, digital and social channels to help extend drone racing beyond its community.
Why should sponsors be flocking to enter the drones space? What kind of value are you envisioning?
Foxhoven: As exciting as the sport is, and in embracing a pure convergence between technology and athleticism, the ascending value for brands is with the pilots and fans themselves. DR1 is the only drone racing organization with multiple pilots that have mainstream sponsorship deals. Luke Bannister is sponsored by Mountain Dew and Air Hogs, Johnny Schaer with Air Hogs, Tommy Tibajia with Mountain Dew and Chad Nowak with Amp Energy. These are the faces of the sport and will be the ambassadors over the coming years. But there are others who are also very talented and will be picking up sponsorships through DR1 this coming year. The content these pilots create is visually incredible.
Keller: Unlike many other sport racing categories, drone racing is not exclusive to the professionals on the big screen. At-home drones, like our Air Hogs DR1, are accessible for any level pilot, allowing them to mirror the speed and stunts of professionals while remaining safe. This at-home accessibility, in conjunction with the rapidly growing fandom, athletes and sponsorships of the drone racing sport, add up to an equation for future success.
Sissing: It’s a perfect fit both ways. Similar to Formula E, drone racing represents an exciting new series, which is why DHL took the opportunity to engage as the logistics partner and title sponsor for DR1’s premier league racing series. It also underlines our strong commitment to the topic of sustainability and our “Mission 2050: Zero Emissions” target. For drone racing, it’s important to have a credible, reliable and global partner who is really convinced about this e-racing sport and helps with its logistics services and worldwide network making the races happen all over the world—ideally in the most sustainable manner possible.
What needs to happen for drone racing to evolve from its underground roots to truly become a global sport?
Foxhoven: Continued exposure on television and digital, with content that is compelling and authentic. There is a growing fan base that already loves the sport, but to really achieve mainstream adoption and interest, it needs to expand from races in warehouses with smoke effects to courses that really showcase what a drone and the pilot can do. That is what Champions Series will be embracing—racecourses that are outside, with the environment being part of the course. Mother Nature has created the best racecourses.
Sissing: Drone racing represents an exciting new e-racing series, using innovative technologies which are gaining in recognition and usage . . . It needs to be exposed to a broader cross-segment of the general public.
How will you further build on your momentum and re-up on your strategy to reach a more mainstream audience?
Keller: The DR1 Race series is the perfect introduction to help rookie pilots learn to train like pros and experience the exciting world of drone racing. Air Hogs is focused on attracting the next generation by creating approachable products that are safe and durable for anyone to use. In addition to the first-person view drone models, we expect technology and gaming to become more integrated with drone racing products, which will create opportunities to provide a more immersive experience and deeper gameplay for consumers.
Sissing: Because drones are increasingly accessible today, it’s a great opportunity to reach our B2C and B2B customers—and especially younger target groups in a new and fancy environment.
Foxhoven: We have a few strategic deals coming up that will build on the Champions Series’ momentum. In the meantime, we will continue to build on our current racing platforms.