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SportsJam with Doug Doyle: Drone Racing League President Rachel Jacobson


The Drone Racing League is entering its 5th season with tens of millions of fans all around the world now enjoying the competition.  DRL is the global, professional drone racing property for elite pilots.

Rachel Jacobson, a graduate of Cornell University and Middletown South High School in New Jersey, became President of the DRL in April of 2020 and has led the league to new heights in marketing, partnerships and strategies.

Jacobson joined SportsJam host Doug Doyle to talk about the recent partnership with Draft Kings, the final two big events on January 26 and January 30 and her amazing career that included 21 years at the NBA where she consulted and became close friends with the late commissioner David Stern.

"(As the NBA's former Senior VP of Global Partnership) I had the incredible opportunity of working very closely with David Stern and Adam Silver and others of the executive leadership along my tenure of being there.  Just to be able to work with those caliber of leaders that understand how important it is not only to progress your sport, but really how important it is to be impactful to communities and ensuring that you're doign the right thing at the core.  So I grew up under that montra of spending Februaries running around arenas for All-Star Weekend and every four years traveling with our Olympic team and really going out and fining the best companies in the world to partner with the NBA.  So my bar was high."

Former SportsJam guest and DRL CEO and founder Nicholas Horbaczewski was excited to have Jacobson join his league and describes her as "tenacious, strategic and laser focused on delivering return on investment for partners."

Jacobson, who has already created partnerships with DraftKings, T-Mobile and BodyArmor, says she amazed at the backgrounds of the drone pilots.

Credit DRL
2019 DRL World Allianz Championship

With custom built racing drones traveling 90 MPH, pilots race through the most insane courses across virtual and physical competitions. Merging the digital with the real, DRL delivers innovative drone technology, immersive content, and visually thrilling races on the best sports networks around the world, including NBC, NBC Sports, Twitter, Facebook, Sky Sports, ProSieben, Groupe AB, and Weibo.  

"We have PHDs, we have former vets, we have people who have abolutely no aviation background but trained on our DRL SIM (simulator) and they were in our feeder system that ladders up to seats in our professional racing series, so they are very diverse backgrounds.  What I love about our sport is that we are inspiring the next generation of kids and others that can do things in technology that they never thought was possible." 

Credit Melanie Wallner/DRL

The 2020-2021 DRL Allianz World Championship season features 12 pilots from all around the world to compete in 16 Levels. The 2020 competition takes place in the DRL SIM, the true-to-life drone racing simulator available on XBOX and STEAM in the first ever virtual season.

Jacobson joins a small group of women who lead a major sport.  She had most recently worked as the Chief Business Development Officer for Landit, an early stage company that revolutionizes professional development for women and a new approach to career acceleration and management.  

As an athlete at both Middletown South High School and Cornell (softball and javelin), Jacobson love of sports came at an early age.  She's a competitor for sure.  With that in mind, she's also committed to bringing female pilots into the DRL.

"I looked at our pilots at our pilots on Day One and I saw 12 men.  I am changing that up!  Right now we are getting women involved in DRL.  We can train them because I want nothing else to be having you invite me with our first-ever female drone pilot that's going to fly in our championship race.  She is out there and there's absolutely no reason that we don't inspire women and girls to start training on our DRL SIM."

DRL has partnered with DraftKings

Working as an intern at Monmouth Park Racetrack, Jacobson became aware of sports betting early on in her career.  When she took the job as DRL President and being an executive with the NBA, she knew sports betting and drone racing were a perfect match.

"As states become legalized to bet, we're going to get them all to ensure that no matter where you are in the world you can bet on drone racing because we know it's a different fan than the traditional stick and ball sport.  We have experts in the gaming space from our friends at DraftKings, we have our experts at DRL, our announcers and pilots so we are educating people so they know what to look for.  You can go on your DraftKings app and you can look right now, we're actually up before our next race on January 26 and then our championship on January 30.  If you get on DraftKings and you look up drone racing, you're going to see DRL and you can place your bets on any of our pilots that are racing."

The excitement of drone racing has even caught the attention of former basketball star and tw0-time NBA champion Chris Bosh, who joined the team as Dean of the DRL Academy were people can learn the technology behind drone racing.

Credit Zoom/Doug Doyle
Rachel Jacobson is the latest guest on SportsJam with Doug Doyle via Zoom

Rachel Jacobson has been able to balance her career and her family during the coronavirus pandemic.  She and her husband have twin 11-year olds who also like gaming.  But during the COVID-19 lockdown, Jacobson admits it's been hard.

"I think the hard conversation was just we need you all to be not just grateful for everything that we have right now, our safety, our health, but we need you to be also understanding to mom and dad that things are going to look a little different and we're not going to let it get us down.  But to have that positive attitude, probably just with 11-year olds, is just a lit bit harder than these conversations I have with adults.  But they've been so resilient Doug,  You know the family time has been invaluable.  We know that we're going to come out stronger.  We've been so stringent in terms of staying home in our four-person unit these part several months.  I look forward to my parents and siblings being vaccinated where we can all come back together again and celebrate and be at some upcoming drone races when we think about what 2021 has in store for us."

The DRL championship can been seen on NBC on January 30.

You can see the Zoom chat with Rachel Jacobson here.

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Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 250 awards from organizations like PRNDI (now PMJA), AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.