Drone Racing League's Rachel Jacobson on the NY Giants, Steph Curry and Bringing DRL to Xbox

The ex-NBA partnerships chief's journey through the sports world

Rachel Jacobson is president of the Drone Racing League (DRL), the global professional drone racing property. She spearheads global partnerships and media rights deals, and leads the marketing and business development teams, bringing to DRL her legacy of creating transformative partnerships with leading sports and technology brands.

Prior to DRL, she served as chief business development officer at Landit, the market leader in personalized career pathing technology to increase the success and engagement of women and diverse groups in the workplace. Before Landit, Rachel spent 21 years at the NBA as svp of global partnerships, where she closed nearly $1 billion in partnership sales.

We spoke to Rachel for our Time-Out series, where we chat with folks in the sports world about their favorite athletes, teams, sports movies and shows, and their love of sports generally.

Rachel, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I am a born-and-bred Jersey girl, and currently live with my husband and 10-year old boy-girl twins in Summit, New Jersey.

Your earliest sports memory.

Going to Monmouth Park racetrack with my parents and grandparents, and getting all dressed up to cheer on the horses! These events inspired my lifelong passion for thoroughbred horse racing—I ended up working at Monmouth Park during my summers in college—and they definitely played a role in getting me to oversee another type of racing sport, this time with drones!

Your favorite sports team.

We are Giants season ticket holders here at the Jacobson house, and I feel like I've grown up with this team. My second-earliest sporting memory was tailgating at Giants games, and I've loved sharing that with my kids—though must admit we're feeling crushed that we can't watch them play in the stands this fall.

Your favorite athlete.

I love Steph Curry and all that he stands for. He's one of the best athletes who will ever play in the NBA, he always involves his family in his journey, and he is laser focused on using his platform to make a difference. One of the things Steph and I worked on together at the NBA with their healthcare partner, Kaiser Permanente, was fighting to erase the stigma around mental health. He really helped us shine a spotlight on this issue and start such an important and open, national dialogue.

Your favorite sports show or podcast.

I love listening to the Leaders Sports Business podcast with James Emmett, who is so great—and happened to be my first podcast interview when I started in my new role at DRL. 

And as you can imagine, I am counting down the days to the 2020 DRL Allianz World Championship Season, which premieres Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Twitter and Facebook Watch! We'll have a dozen of the best pilots in the world competing through these high-tech, esports-inspired drone races, and my kids and I can't wait to tune in to see who wins.

Your favorite sports movie and/or video game.

Sports movie—who doesn't love Bull Durham?! And my new favorite video game is the DRL Simulator on Xbox! This immersive drone racing game makes our sport accessible to millions of players everywhere, enabling them to explore new worlds, race with friends, and fly like the pros. My kids are absolutely obsessed with it, and as a mom, I love that it's fun, non-violent and educational, teaching players new skills in science and technology.

A recent project you're proud of.

Since my first day on the job, I've been hearing about the DRL Game on Xbox as a top priority as the league builds our sport to be primetime with a mainstream audience. For the first time ever, fans everywhere get to play DRL on Xbox, giving them the sensation of flying in the cockpit of a racing drone. As the game will also host our upcoming 2020 season, DRL will own the new reality, where there's no difference between the virtual and the real, testing the skills of digital athletes in this new era of sport.

Someone else's project that you admired recently.

Coming from a sport like DRL that's all about STEM, tech innovation and creating visually spectacular partnerships, I am always inspired by brands that are doing unique, bold activations together—like Lego and Adidas, who recently teamed up for such a fun, playful sneaker collaboration that's reminiscent of classic Lego building blocks. 

What you love about sports generally/what sports can do that nothing else can.

Sports is a unifier. It's one of the only industries that's all about leveling the playing field, bringing people together, and teaching valuable life lessons around teamwork, resiliency and healthy competition. It's been amazing to see these themes play out in real time—as leagues and properties came together over the last six months to bring back sports entertainment at a time we need it most.  

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the sports world.

Accelerating diversity and inclusion programs at companies around the world—which is exactly what I was doing when I left sports and worked at Landit most recently, and something I will continue doing at DRL and for the industry moving forward. After 21 years at the NBA, I served as the chief business development officer at Landit, a career pathing HR tech startup to advance women and diverse candidates in their careers. I'm thrilled to share that since I started at DRL and brought on our first CMO, Anne Marie Giantusos, DRL now has a majority women C-suite team.

Time-Out is our new interview series where we chat with folks in the sports world about their creative inspirations, their favorite athletes, teams, sports movies and more, and generally what sport means to them. For more about Time-Out, and our Clio Sports program, please contact Shawn Mosby.

Clio Sports and Bleacher Report are hosting a virtual B2B thought leadership event, The New Sports Marketing Playbook, on Oct. 28-29. Click here to learn more and to register.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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