7 Ways the NFL is Using Drones

Drones have become very popular over the past years with the technology finding application in various fields, including professional sports. If you are an NFL fan and have been wondering whether the football league has been using drones, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll be discussing how the NFL uses drone technology in this article.

The NFL uses drones and was, in fact, the first major American sports league permitted to fly drones. Drone use by the NFL is limited to filming documentaries and practices. They are not used to film regular-season games. Drones are also used to clean stadiums in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In 2015, The NFL petitioned the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), the body that enforces regulations about aircraft, for permission to use drones. At that time, the FAA had yet to finalize rules and regulations about the use of drones for commercial activities.

However, the FAA approved the NFL’s petition and specified when the league can fly drones as well as the model and types of drones that can be used. While this limited how drones can be used in the league, one can’t argue about the FAA’s reasons for enacting those limitations.

How the NFL uses drones

Let’s look at the different ways drones are being used by the NFL.

1. Aerial shots for commercials, team promos, and documentaries

The NFL’s video production unit, NFL Films, is actually what prompted the league to petition the FAA for permission to fly drones. NFL Films previously used crewed aircraft to capture aerial shots, but the use of drones for aerial imagery was enticing to the league as drones offer a cheaper and safer option since they cost far less and don’t carry passengers or flammable fuel.

Thankfully, the FAA allowed the league to use drones for their filmmaking and storytelling. The result of this is amazing aerial shots from angles that could otherwise not be seen with standard cameras, or even helicopters. And as per the FAA’s directives, NFL Films can only use drones on empty stadiums for safety purposes.

2. Super Bowl 51 Halftime Show in 2017

One of the most recent uses of drones by the NFL was during the Super Bowl 51 Halftime Show in 2017 when Lady Gaga’s performance was backed up by hundreds of drones that lit up the sky behind the superstar singer.

The drones created several images including the American flag, the Pepsi Co. logo, and the Intel logo (the drones were produced by Intel, by the way). This historical event also happens to be the first time drones were part of a public television broadcast.

The colorful and swirling backdrop the drones provided on the roof of Houston’s NRG Stadium made the Super Bowl 51 Halftime Show one of the most entertaining ever. However, the drones weren’t flying live as the drone show was filmed before Lady Gaga’s performance.

This is because the FAA’s regulations ban drones from flying within a 30+ mile radius of the NRG stadium. The reason for this is for public safety – during an event like this, hundreds of people are in the stadium for the Super Bowl, and drones falling from the sky could cause injury and mass chaos.

3. Live drone performance during Super Bowl 53

A few years after drones were used for the first time ever in a televised broadcast at the Super Bowl 51, the NFL made history again by partnering with Intel to create the first-ever live drone light show at the Super Bowl 53 halftime show.

Popular pop band, Maroon 5, performed their “She Will Be Loved” hit song with 150 enhanced Intel Shooting Star drones floating in the background and forming the words “ONE” and “LOVE” in response to the performance.

4. Security Purposes

While a group of drones was providing entertainment at Super Bowl 53, another group of drones was used for surveillance. DJI Matrice 210 drones fitted with optical zoom and thermal imaging cameras were used to provide security officials an aerial view of the area.

5. Drone drop challenge of the Pro Bowl Skill Showdown

The Pro Bowl Skill Showdown is an event when the most skilled players in the NFL compete against each other. Usually, professional players from the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC) challenge each other in fan-favorite events like Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball, Precision Passing, Best Hands, Gridiron Gauntlet, The Drone Drop Challenge, and so on.

The Drop Drone Challenge notably features drones. Typically, the FAA does not allow commercial drones to fly over people but they made a special exception for the NFL’s drone challenge.

In the Drone Drop challenge, footballs are attached to quads which then fly high, maintain a steady altitude (about 200 feet), and drop the ball to a player below who tries to catch the ball. It’s an exciting challenge that is seen as the ultimate test of a player’s skills. Don’t believe us? Then, watch the Drone Drop challenge to become a believer.

6. Filming team practices

NFL teams are also allowed to use drones to film their practices as long as they comply with local, state, and federal guidelines. This is of interest to NFL coaches as there are benefits to using a birds-eye view for training. Coaches can see their training sessions from a different perspective thanks to drones and use come up with tactical plans to win games.

7. Cleaning and disinfecting stadiums

Some NFL teams are now using drones to clean their stadiums in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The use of drones will make it possible for these NFL teams to allow fans into their stadiums, albeit in a limited capacity.

The Atlanta Falcons is one of the NFL teams that’s using drones to clean and disinfect stadiums and the club has partnered with Lucid Drone Technologies for this purpose. Drones used for disinfection are equipped with special electrostatic spraying nozzles that are capable of evenly deploying medical-grade disinfecting chemicals to curb the spread of the novel Covid-19 virus.

Drones have proven to be an efficient solution to the problem of effectively and quickly disinfecting stadiums. One disinfecting drone has been said to be equivalent in effectiveness to workers with backpack sprayers. And there’s as high as a 95% reduction in disinfection time.

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