NFLN considering use of drones to cover training camp


When the United States began using unmanned aircraft to track and kill enemies, the term “drone” acquired a meaning far more sinister than “worker bee.”  When sports organizations began using remote-controlled helicopters, someone decided to apply the term “drone” to them, too.

It’s a bizarre decision.  They’re drones, technically.  But they’re not drones.  They’re not inherently dangerous or menacing.

Unless, of course, something unforeseen happens with the technology, causing that blimp at the hockey game dropping T-shirts onto the crowd to itself drop onto the crowd, injuring a paying customer who may have assumed the risk of getting hit with a puck from below but not of getting struck by an aircraft from above.

ESPN recently delved into the boring-on-the-surface-intriguing-after-more-careful-thought question of whether the more innocuous type of drones fall within the scope of FAA regulation.  It’s an issue that quickly will become relevant for the NFL.

Per a source with knowledge of the plans, the NFL’s in-house media conglomerate plans to use drones during production of this year’s Inside Training Camp series on NFL Network.  While not a done deal yet, the plans are in place to use remote-controlled hovercraft to obtain TV images of practice.

The technology has intriguing possibilities.  Presumably far cheaper and easier to manage than the Cablecam device, hovering aircraft could capture images that could be used for coaching, enhancing the in-stadium viewing experience, and/or watching the game from home.

But it’s hardly foolproof.  A Cablecam ended up on the playing field nearly seven years ago.  The Sunday night game between the Seahawks and Saints was delayed by roughly 10 minutes; however, the league insisted that the device didn’t actually crash to the ground.

Drones are smaller and lighter than the Cablecam apparatus, but there’s still a chance something could go wrong if/when flying cameras are used on an extensive basis over a practice field or a game site.  It appears to be a risk the NFL is willing to take as it prepares to harness a new way to capture video of what happens when football is practiced or played.

66 responses to “NFLN considering use of drones to cover training camp

  1. There is actually a risk if the drone suffers mechanical damages and plummets to earth.
    The concept is great to video everything, but occasionally something can go wrong and it can be dangerous. I am not joking.

  2. There are conceivably an incalculable number of ways that drones can be utilized moving forward in settings outside of the theater of war, and using them in sporting events to provide a literal “bird’s eye view” on the move is a very cool idea. You would have to be careful that it doesn’t interfere with the game in any way, but the viewing angles and instant replay benefits would be very apparent. Refs could use the footage collected from drones to help make the proper calls on challenged plays, coaches could use drone footage in the film rooms, and the overall fan experience would be an awesome new addition to the sport.

  3. To kill and track enemies?

    The author does realize it’s also used to kill Americans without due process right?

    The fake war on terror. Isn’t it nice we gave up all our liberties because of a preventable terrorist act that was merely blowback for CIA/MI6/Saudi-Qatari clandestine operations.

    The use of drones for this is obviously far less controversial, but flying things do tend to crash, and last time I checked 4k cameras can zoom in pretty nicely. A camera man with a tripod also shakes less.

    There is really no use for drones. 4k cameras and tripods already do the job better and with less risk.

    We get All 22 without drones too. So no, we don’t need drones to cover anything NFL. They don’t add anything. You can have cameras from any angle and cover EVERYTHING, all they need to do is ZOOM. We’re not 320×240 lines, were getting to 3840×2160, and that’s just the beginning.

    But hey, I guess it’s cheaper to employ some 20 year old with a joystick then a trained cameraman. Reaching for the lowest common denominator NFL?

  4. Why not install cameras in the grass or turf and have them pop up to take pictures from ground level and always behind the areas where the players are playing so as not to trip anybody? Much more control and less chance of things falling from the air.

  5. As soon as I saw this article … Im like …OK lets count all the Belichick jokes… spygate comments… blah blah blah…

    I am dissapointed … the haters must be at lunch or something… (only two comments)

    I’ll check back…

  6. I can’t wait until a pass hits a flying helicopter and falls on a player’s head…

  7. I wish we can all have our own drones at the stadium of our choice. If I had my way, I would position the cameras behind the offense of my team so I can see what they see, and behind the defense of my team for the same reason. I get pretty tired when the cameras focus on the ball when there is so much going on every single play.

  8. Putting aside the obvious Patriots jokes, do you really think any of the 32 uber-paranoid head coaches would agree to this? They’re all already afraid that their toilets are bugged by opponents. They’ll go ape over this idea.

  9. Somehow, the NFL will turn this into a direct revenue generating product. Charge people extra for “mobile drone coverage” with premium rates for those people that want the ability to replay drone footage and select between target drones. $25000 gives you access to the drone box where fans can take turns piloting their own drone….

  10. Guess you guys don’t follow sports too much – there have been plenty of useless drones covering the NFL for years.

  11. I can see some benefits in a game situation. I can also see some problems. But maybe they can make it work. Just don’t get rid of the Cablecam until all the mechanics are tested in game situations. As for practice – no way. I can not think of a coach that would want a digital signal of practice getting put out. Too easy to hack.

  12. If you think drones are harmless regardless of the context, you are off your rocker.

    It’s another attempt to make this hideous technology “kinder and gentler” for the average sheep to think those launching the tech are on their side.

    What else can they see?

    Here’s something to consider: not everything that is invented is good for us.

  13. Drones. Funny, I remember when we used to call them remote controlled _____ or robots.

    There would not be much benefit at all. I would guess the video would be jumpy and most of the angles are already covered by cameras.

    Personally, I don’t much like the trend. Technology is great but it eventually replaces people in the workforce.

  14. after getting rid of Banner and Lombardi, Cleveland’s entire braintrust is composed of low-level drones from Sector 7G.

    Excellent!!….they’ll be moving again shortly.

  15. They NEVER use many of the cable cam angles anyway and a drone isn’t really going to do much more then be another gimmick. Heck, the way they are taking hitting out of the game and writing rules to favor the offense, I guess it doesn’t matter how they choose to produce the game because it’s soon going to suck.

  16. I say paint a Redskins logo on all drones, and give the liberal media 10 gauge shotguns to shoot them down.

    What a half time show that would be?

  17. I still think helmet cam is the way to go.

    As the technology gets better there’s no reason not to expect a camera in the QB’s helmet seeing everything he sees.

    Imagine how good that will be when he’s blitzed and has to step up in the pocket or when he throw an INT to a dropping safety he didn’t see etc.

    And a camera in a WR’s helmet to see how little time he has between turning for the ball and making a catch

  18. Come on guys. Like there is much difference between the blimps and an unmanned device. It’s not a big deal.

  19. They should probably use the drones to keep an eye on Aldon Smith, instead….

  20. Drone warfare is extremely inefficient and faces a lot of international criticisms.

    Introducing drones into everyday life could possibly win at least American perception of drones. Crazy as it seems, tactics like that work on a lot of fools.

    Technology is cool but at some point you gotta revere simplicity too. Especially when it could have effects on people’s outlook on things of high magnitude.

  21. These things are light weight- less than 3 lbs in some cases and they are safer than you think in the hands of a PROFESSIONAL.
    The model my company owns is easy to fly and offers a mode where, if there is a problem, the operator releases both joysticks and the craft goes into a hover mode.
    And, they shoot VIDEO, people, not missiles. Really nice looking video.

    I would beg to differ with my colleague who suggests that you get the same angles from a tripod on the ground. Not true.

    They are here to stay, especially when considering the advertising and sponsorship revenue possibilities.
    But like every other new gimmick, you will tire of drone shots as they become over used and less novel.

  22. Seems ok….they’ve been using them as hosts on the NFL Network for years now.

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