Drone Technology is Changing the Way We Watch Sports


It’s been a notable year for drones in professional sports as TV networks continue to expand the use of the technology. From golf tournaments to motorcycle races, these unmanned aircrafts are populating the skies of distinguished athletic competitions, giving sports coverage wings it didn’t have before.

Back in January of this year, ESPN captured video footage from drones at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo. Then in the Spring, Fox Sports took to airborne coverage when the network tested propeller drones in Indianapolis during the Monster Energy AMA Supercross motorcycle series. NBC Sports showed vistas from drones of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament held in Bay Hill, Fla., and also premiered a promotional video announcing the 2015 Kentucky Derby shot by drones.

Summer came around, and the aerial contraptions made their appearances once again at the Women’s World Cup in Canada and at the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Open tournaments held in Chamber’s Bay, Wash., and Lancaster, Pa., respectively, both covered by Fox Sports.

Michael Davies, Senior Vice President of Field Operations at Fox Sports, said drones bring viewers shots that are hard to get anywhere else, even if audiences don’t realize where those shots are coming from. These aerial shots and the potential for graphic overlays provide innovative options to improve the audience experience. Davies was part of the team that worked on one of the first approved flyovers of drones in sports by the Federal Aviation Administration last December at the Franklin Templeton Shootout golf tournament in Naples, Fla.

Davies explained that in a sport like golf, drones are especially useful because they can fly over bodies of water and under bridges to capture live shots of golfers and the course. Similarly, drones do well at motorcycle races and sports that generally cover a lot of ground.

However, there is still some way to go before we start seeing drones in a larger range of sporting competitions. Could Fox Sports have brought them in for one of the Gold Cup soccer games in Atlanta? Not until more flexible regulations are put in place. Currently, regulations require that drones keep a distance of at least 500 feet from nonparticipants in the sporting competition. Safety is critical to commercial drone operators, and many of them are going beyond the FAA’s requirements. And as far as the equipment goes, noise and battery life can be a challenge, with technicians needing to change batteries every 8-10 minutes. Despite some of these difficulties, Davies says he is pleased with every new iteration and rapid improvement of the technology to date.

Though Davies acknowledges that moving forward with drone use is a slow process that requires patience to ensure safety and adherence to all the regulations that come with it, he is also hopeful. Every three months the rules tend to make a little more room for innovation and more people get used to having drones around.

“We are actively pursuing drones on every level. We have some spectacular ideas, and I’m hoping they will turn heads,” said Davies. “One day, we hope to shoot a full event with drones.”

Wouldn’t that be something.

Header photo courtesy of Fox Sports