If you’re a tech-minded individual with fast reflexes, the Drone Racing League is hoping you’ll consider a career in professional drone racing.
With contracts of up to $100,000 to fly one of these devices for the professional sports league, it’s a not-too-shabby career choice if you have the skills to pilot flying devices through a pre-determined maze at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour.
Amateur drone racing started out five years ago in Australia. DRL co-founder and CEO Nick Horbaczewski had previously been the chief revenue officer at Tough Mudder, and was looking for an opportunity to get in on a sport that was on its way up.
“I had experience growing a niche sport into a major sport,” Horbaczewski said to CNBC at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. “I wanted to look at what would be next [in the sports world].”
And while the sport hasn’t reached a critical mass of popularity, the DRL is starting to make headway. The second season broadcasts in 75 countries including on Sky Sports in the U.K. and Ireland and on ESPN in North, South, and Central America, as well as the Caribbean starting in June 2017. The company has also had to invent new cameras to capture the high speed flying devices, which provides the league with an additional revenue stream.
About 28.2 million viewers tuned in on ESPN during the first season in 2016, and the league was able to bring in Bud Light, Allianz and Toy State as sponsors. The winner of the league last year scored a $100,000 contract for the 2017 season, while a pilot who won an online drone flight simulation contest got $75,000 to fly the Bud Light drone.
“It’s allowed [pilots] to quit their jobs and do what they do full time,” Horbaczewski said.
Qualifying for the DRL isn’t as easy as it seems, however. It only accepted 16 pilots this season. Pilots mostly hail from North America and Europe, but Asian countries are starting to pick up the sport, Horbaczewski said. He noted that Japan, China and Korea have more restrictive rules against flying drones, which he thinks has limited the growth of professional pilots.
In addition, pilots are only allowed to fly DRL’s drones, which lack stabilization technology, hover abilities and other things that make it easier to fly them. However, taking out those features also makes DRL’s version faster and more agile than traditional models on the market. DRL drones are not available for public purchase, although the league is releasing a toy version later this year.
“Remote controlled planes are toys and have always been, where drones are a part of massive industry,” Horbaczewski said. “The level of innovation has been amazing.”