Heralded by many as the “sport of the future,” Drone Racing League continues to live up to the moniker by announcing a multi-year partnership with blockchain platform Algorand.
The five-year deal, reportedly worth $100 million, is the largest deal since DRL was founded in 2015 by Nicholas Horbaczewski.
As part of the partnership, DRL will unveil blockchain-enabled ticketing, collectibles, fan transactions and NFTs on Algorand, which will have the title rights to the DRL World Championship circuit for the extent of the deal. DRL will also develop a Digital Drone Racing series built into Algorand’s blockchain network.
“DRL is a defining 21st century sports property and we’re only going to do 21st century business deals,” DRL president Rachel Jacobson said. “Blockchain and drone racing is a perfect match. We knew we had to be so thoughtful entering this space and really find that company that shared so much of our DNA and brought similar ambitions when we thought about the growth of blockchain as well as our sport.”
Crypto.com was named the official cryptocurrency partner of soccer giants Paris St. Germain on September 10; the company signed a 10-year, $175 million deal with the UFC in July, a five-year, $100 million deal with Formula 1 in June, and has partnered with Serie A in Italy and the Montreal Canadiens. Crypto exchange FTX bought naming rights to the Miami Heat’s arena on a 19-year deal worth $135 million in June and received naming rights to the field at California Memorial Stadium at the University of California in a 10-year, $17.5 million agreement marking the first-ever collegiate cryptocurrency naming rights sponsorship in August.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs), certified digital assets backed by blockchain, skyrocketed in popularity this past winter thanks to the success of NBA Top Shot, a digital collectible trading card system and marketplace developed by Dapper Labs. Countless teams, leagues, brands, athletes and celebrities joined the NFT craze by partnering with developers including Dapper Labs and Sorare to launch their own digital collectibles as a way to not only increase revenue, but also further fan engagement.
“This is about building new blockchain technology at the root of our sport, so crypto, techies, drone racers, sports fans, everyone can get skin in the game,” Jacobson said. “With our sport you don’t have to fly drones or watch everything we put out but there is something for everyone. We didn’t want to have our sport out there and not have a blockchain partnership that goes really beyond logos on jerseys that we’ve seen in all of sports in the past year. We really did our homework and were really thoughtful.”
For Drone Racing League, which begins its 2021-22 campaign at 8 p.m. EST on September 29 (NBCSN, Twitter), the partnership with Algorand is another example of working with big brands to engage a new generation of tech-savvy fans. The DRL partnered with BodyArmor, Champion and Respawn in November 2020, and became the first aerial sport fans can legally bet on in the United States thanks to its partnership with DraftKings in January.
According to the DRL, its fans are 40 times more likely to follow and engage with crypto social media than the general population.
“We’re right up there when you look at the scale of this partnership,” Jacobson said. “That rivals an NFL deal, and we all know how many eyeballs the NFL brings in. It goes back to the value of this property and the value of this fan base, but they know this audience absolutely engages.”
Also as part of the partnership with Algorand, the crypto platform will sponsor a 13th pilot to serve as the DRL’s alternate pilot as its 12 pilots race high-speed drones at venues including Minnesota United’s Allianz Field and FedExForum, home to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The new partners will also welcome crypto developers, coders and programmers to hackathon events at DRL races around the globe.
“When you think about our sport, it’s a real-world case study to show off parts of technology,” said Jacobson, highlighting DRL’s autonomous drone that debuted in 2019 and its 5G-enabled drone that debuted in August. “That’s where we have this incredible edge up.
“Our best days are ahead of us and not many other sports can say that.”