So a few of you may have known I had been sponsored back in July/Aug of 2016. It was offered up by a local drone company here in MN as part of making a racing team. I met with the team owner and what he explained was exciting. We’d work together and build a brand and a team up to win races. All in all it sounded great.
As time stretched on more and more red flags surfaced. Meetings scheduled and upon arrival the owner wasn’t even in the state with no call or attempt to contact me. Perks promised weren’t materializing nor were any type of sponsorship labeling or swag. There were a total of 3 pilots in our group. I was the oldest at 35 the other pilots 17 and 18 with a team manager that was 18 as well. Things came to a head when finally some of us started receiving our gear.
When it was finally my turn to start getting my stuff I was concerned and reached out about it. The concern was spare parts for our sponsor purchased gear. There was some discussion when we met about keeping us flying and in the air by keeping an on hand stash of replacement parts but it turns out to be we are responsible for any damage done to the racing drone financially. Although not the end of the world for me I saw it for what it was another red flag. The issue being we hadn’t started winning races to pay for our investment yet. This part stuck in my head as the biggest red flag of all. This sport of drone racing isn’t very lucrative to pilots yet. It will take time to get there as it grows but at the moment no matter who you are and how good you are you can’t make a living off of the purses being offered. On top of that how little extra it would cost to keep a few extra critical spare parts around was small peanuts compared to the outlay of cash up front and would ensure everyone kept flying with the possibility to earn some wins and reputation for the company. Lastly with the team assembled of a high school student and a college student with very limited funds can’t be expected to put all else aside to pay to keep their gear in the air with no assistance and be ready for each and every race you want them to run.
So to the crux of the matter. I confronted the owner in our private group to clarify the issue and was promptly told to pound sand basically. I argued the point a bit and pretty much ended any ability to work with the owner to which I promptly quit the team after a short consideration. I found out later on that I would have been terminated from the group anyway as I had pissed off the owner. Now as the title states I lost my sponsorship but I gained some self respect. I put my foot down when I felt it really mattered hoping to give myself and in the end my remaining teammates some leverage moving forward. Whether it works out that way is up to them but I harbor no hard feelings against them or the owner. Business is business and although I’m a bit disappointed in his reaction it’s his business and he can run it with whomever and however he likes.
I still race and have a ton of fun doing it. The pressure is lessened a bit and I feel like I can fly my own way with me being the only critic that matters. You have to love to fly to get any good at this sport and talent helps a ton. My biggest takeaway from this situation is don’t be afraid to speak your mind even if it costs you something it’s much cheaper than letting someone walk all over you.