Stephen Ross has trouble filling seats for America's most beloved sport, so can he really help launch an entirely new sport? We're about to find out. The Miami Dolphins owner has invested $1 million in a new drone racing league through a venture firm he cofounded.
Yes, drone racing.
The Drone Racing League, based out of New York, plans to pit video game veterans against former military unmanned plane pilots to race drones. Participants will wear virtual-reality goggles that make them feel like they're in a plane's cockpit, and the drones will race through abandoned indoor spaces like old factories.
The sport hopes to capitalize on the growing number of drone hobbyists as well as existing video game fans. The backing of an NFL owner gives the sport some legitimacy as well. The league hopes to make money through airing races on television, sponsorships, and eventually selling tickets to live races.
Ross is backing the league through RSE Ventures (which stands for Ross Sports and Entertainment), a firm he co-founded with Matt Higgins. The company currently operates the International Champions Cup, a tournament of international soccer teams and has investments in about 90 early-stage startups according to the Wall Street Journal.
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"We backed it because it has all the makings of a modern-day sport, Twitch meets Formula One," Higgins told ESPN. "The pilots have to have great reflexes and hone their skills over hours and hours of practice. And first-person viewing lends itself to an amazing spectator experience with virtual reality."
The Drone Racing League hopes to differentiate itself from other drone racing events by allowing viewers to see the virtual reality image cockpits the drivers see in their headsets. The indoors aspect also differs from other races that are held outdoors. The first public race is expected to be held by the end of the year.
Higgins admitted the investment may be risky, but it's nothing compared to the $350 million Ross is shelling out to upgrade Sun Life Stadium.