The 2011 film Moneyball chronicles the Oakland A’s attempts to use computer-based statistical analysis to build a better team – a classic example of new technology impacting the sports world.
Today, the deployment of drone technology may well lead to a paradigm shift in the way fans interact with teams and the way athletes perform. But even as sports teams and sports photographers discover new ways to use UAVs, regulators and attorneys are keeping an eye on the legal implications.
The topic has caused such a buzz that it garnered a 2014 panel discussion at South by Southwest (SXSW), the prestigious film, technology and music conclave held annually in Austin, Texas.
The panel included aerial videographer Ryan Baker and sports podcaster Ty Hildenbrandt. Both panelists see new horizons emerging for drone operators in the sports world.
“The market for drones, right now, is in extreme sports due to the angles available for more attractive shots,” Baker said during the presentation.
Viewers of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi may have noticed the many amazing shots of skiers and snowboarders that were only possible thanks to drones (previously covered in Drone Life). Whiteboard.com shows that drone videography has huge potential uses in auto racing and cycling as well.
For sports videographers, drones represent a much less expensive option for aerial photography over helicopters. Remo Masina of DediCam uses drones to film commercials with sports themes such as skiing and auto racing.
And while drones can be found flying over football stadiums and ski runs, videographers are also pushing UAVs to the highest limits. In Pakistan, videographers now use drones to photograph mountain climbers on the Karakoram mountain range (up to 25,000 feet).
In a post-panel interview, Baker predicts that while drones will transform sports, the technology may not immediately be adopted by all pro leagues.
“I don’t see it being implemented in NFL stadiums where they already have a CableCam system in place, because it’s not practical. But for users who don’t have a CableCam system, like a high school football team that wants to get CableCam-style views but can’t install a CableCam system in their practice field, that sort of thing.”
However, the Washington Nationals have used drone technology in spring training “to provide some interesting content for the video board the Nationals Park by providing players from a different perspective.”
“I think it’s more going to be used for practice film and promotional film for teams,” Baker added.
“In the PAC 12 they’ve been using it, and there are major universities around the country that are starting to adopt it. For practice film, they might be using it for tracking shots, where they want to follow a player that you couldn’t get with a fixed position.”
Drones may also provide unique video perspectives for fans, allowing viewers to virtually follow a specific athlete during play.
“A UAV companion can track your movements and maintain hovering at a distance a few feet away. You just take it out, let it take off and it follows you down the hill. You get back on the ski lift and put it back in your backpack.”
As with most emerging drone tech, use of UAVs in sports is not without controversy.
In the case of the Washington Nationals, the team didn’t obtain permission by the FAA to use drone photography. However, a team official quipped to the Associated Press: “we didn’t get it cleared, but we don’t get our pop flies cleared either and those go higher than this thing did.”
Liability issues could also put a damper on sports drones. “No one wants to be the YouTube video where the drone is crashing into the cheerleaders,” Baker pointed out at SXSW.
In April, a triathlete claims she was struck by an errant drone during an Australian race, leading to a police investigation. Questions have also arisen about the legality of drone photography during a Pittsburgh marathon in May.
The use of sports drones will no doubt created a thicket of legal and regulatory snares but, as blogger Kyle Wagner points out,
“In the meantime, drones in sports might be illegal, or they might not, but if you want to use them there’s a good chance no one’s going to stop you.”
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com