Building a sports league ain't what it used to be. When the four major American sports began during the first half of the 20th century, most organizations focused on fielding the best possible product and then getting butts into the seats to watch it. Television advertising wasn't a thing yet, not to mention widespread access to sports broadcasts.
In 2019, an elite product—as well as an accessible, visually exciting viewing experience—is mandatory. Everything else is fluid and constantly changing, whether it's the way the audience consumes the sport or how they engage with it. In order to stay in front of their competition, the Drone Racing League has to explore every possible revenue stream. The currents of social media and digital technology demand that a league like DRL be a fluid enterprise, ever-changing, a full-time pivot.
DRL founder and CEO Nicholas Horbaczewski compares his sport's on-the-fly improvements to patches in a video game. "What's fun about building a pro league from scratch is that we constantly evolve what we're doing," Horbaczewski said from his office in Flatiron, the central hub of the NYC tech scene. "So every year there's a new drone. Every year we change the rules a little bit, and we see this continuing to evolve in the same way you would expect any video game to evolve."
In December, I spoke with Horbaczewski at DRL's Flatiron headquarters, where we talked about his vision for DRL's future and the modern challenges of popularizing a new sport.