Sports betting is not for everyone. Even for very knowledgeable fans, it’s always a financial risk. And in some cases, depending on where you might live, it may not even be an accessible activity because of legal restrictions. That said, in a broader sense sports betting represents a gigantic industry running alongside sports and contests of all kinds. To give you some idea of the size of this industry and the interest in it, one recent estimate suggested that if just 32 U.S. states legalize sports betting, it could bring in about $6.03 billion in annual revenue by 2023. And that’s just in one (admittedly sports-obsessed) country!
Naturally, when you consider numbers like that you can come around to the idea that a steady betting market legitimizes a sport to some degree. And this is why some with an interest in drone racing has been eyeing the markets and waiting for drone racing to be accepted in this manner. While you can sometimes find odds for somewhat obscure events, drone racing didn’t quite make the cut, even when ESPN first made the decision to televise it back in the summer of 2016. That said, even before drone racing made it onto mainstream television, there were clear indications of its potential broad appeal, which by extension likely tempted those in charge of major betting platforms.
All the way back in 2015, ESPN ran an article proclaiming that the sky was the limit for drone racing, and backing up that notion with all kinds of fascinating figures and takes about what was then a budding pseudo-sport. For one thing, at the time of that writing, drone racing was just starting to rake in major investments. RSE Ventures, a company run by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, had just pumped $1 million into the Drone Racing League, and they weren’t alone. Since that time, several different companies and private investors have put significant funds behind the DRL.
Additionally, however, the article discussed the raw appeal of drone racing, painting an early picture that this truly was a spectator activity unlike any other. It talked about the potential for drone races to be held in some of the most beautiful places in the world, such as the Colosseum in Rome, or the Sydney Opera House, simply because traditional sporting venues aren’t required (and can in fact even make the action a little bit duller). It quoted drone pilot Ryan Gury as saying that anybody with an imagination could get into drone racing because it makes you “feel like a superhero.” These kinds of comments might now seem as if they were pitches to donors or outside industries (like betting businesses) with the potential to promote the DRL. Really, however, they were just descriptions of something that began to catch on quickly.
For the people in charge of sportsbooks, however, even a perfectly obvious raw appeal wasn’t necessarily enough to jump into business. At least in a broad sense, people in these positions have to care about two things: ratings and predictability. In the early days of televised, professional drone racing, people in charge of sportsbooks wanted to see that a significant audience was tuning in, and essentially that there was a big enough market to make the betting activity worth their while. They also wanted to get a hang of the sport, so to speak, so as to be able to determine odds with the same precision (and favorability to themselves) that they can with more traditional sports and events. In other words, for betting platform executives, it was simply about seeing some numbers.
Now that drone racing has been on TV and making headlines for a few years though, it seems that the betting industry is prepared to jump on board. More specifically, last June saw the first official drone racing betting market open at the established and very popular online platform Betfair. Promoted as the latest in a long line of developments designed to allow punters to bet on less traditional sports, DRL betting began with the Allianz World Championship. It now appears poised to grow alongside the sport, and could ultimately provide a betting category every bit as popular as those for Formula 1, Moto GP, or other racing-related activities. That, at least, is the hope.
Circling back to the idea of just how big a business sports betting of any kind can see, you can begin to see how this gradual development lends more legitimacy to drone racing and the DRL in particular. In the short term it’s actually easy to imagine the two activities – watching drone racing and betting on it – propelling each other such that the DRL reaches new heights. That is to say, the more people watch, the more betting opportunities will emerge, and the more betting activity there is the more the sport’s profile will grow. As the ESPN article put it back in 2015, it does seem as if the sky’s the limit.