The Persistent Menace of Drones in Sport

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Sport and technology have a love-hate relationship, with fans embracing some changes and rejecting others.

How many times has a sports fan pleaded for the game to be left as it always was, traditionalists, resisting change, whilst watching at home or interacting with a social media page? Technology makes our sports accessible, but it can also make it less enjoyable, as we saw with the Polara golf ball, which potentially deskilled the game.

Recently, we have seen an example of larger events being disrupted in New York, when a drone caused the Yankees game against the Rays to be halted, temporarily. Drones are becoming increasingly common and have already been seen to disrupt life in other ways, specifically at airports and airfields. They are a known menace in the airspace, but they are also a huge problem to sport’s teams and organizations. The New York Yankees have finished in the top two of the AL East five times in the last six seasons and are perhaps the most well-known MLB team across the world, so when a drone disrupts their game, it is major news.

How are these mini flying machines such a threat? The range of drones featured on Adorama demonstrates how products are capable of up to 8 km 1080p video transmission, making them a real menace to pay-per-view live broadcasting. They can live stream action, for instance, or can take photographs that licensed snappers perhaps cannot. These are ‘minor’ problems though when compared to the security threat they pose.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2017, a drone flew over the Levi’s Stadium and dropped conspiracy theory leaflets over a San Francisco 49ers game. In San Diego six months earlier, a bartender flew a drone over Padre Park and crashed it into a fan. Whilst both incidents seem to be relatively minor, the possibilities are frightening. What if, instead of leaflets, the payload at the Levi’s Stadium had been something more harmful? What if, instead of simply crashing a drone into a fan in San Diego, the drone had something altogether more sinister attached to it?

Worryingly, legislation around drones at sporting events was slow to come into force, and only recently has it become illegal for operators to take their machines to spectator events. With few fans in stadiums at present, the threat is minor, but as things return to normal sports teams will begin to see some movement on a problem that has persistently dogged them. Indeed, in some states, it was illegal for them to disrupt the drone in flight using a jammer or even worse, a firearm.

Luckily, the new legislation does offer some protection to teams such as the Yankees, from whatever threat the operator may pose. It may be a security risk, it may be an infringement on broadcasting, but finally, it has been taken seriously by the lawmakers. The Federal Aviation Agency has unveiled mandatory fines and maybe jail time for operators flying drones under 3,000 feet of an NCAA Division I college stadium, MLB or NFL stadium, as well as any Indy Car, NASCAR Sprint Cup or Champ series auto tracks.

That should begin to eradicate the risks posed by these flying machines and their increasingly advanced technology capabilities.

Written by Louise Bentley.

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