Drones Moving Into The Sports World

Aerial photography is an emerging field. Some are hobbyists, some are using it to get offer a unique perspective of their real estate, and some are using it to design football plays. Wait, what?

Drones are being used more and more by the football community as an inexpensive way to see exactly what is happening on the field. The view – one that is similar to the view offered in video games so that the user can control every player – has become more and more accessible due to the rising popularity of the practice.

Colleges such as Clemson, UCLA and Oregon State are just a couple of the major Division-1 schools that are using the technology.

It’s not unusual for football teams to have a director of video operations; in fact, football practices are filmed more than any other sport due to the nature of it. Every 30 seconds, a new play is set up and executed. It’s not a fluid game like basketball, baseball or hockey. The offense determines what it wants to do and the defense has to react.

Drones are popping up at more and more practices - and even in high school football games.
Drones are popping up at more and more practices – and even in high school football games.

In the past, UCLA’s Ken Norris would be running a camera from the sideline. Sure, you can go higher up in the bleachers, but you’re still not getting a perspective like the one you can with a drone. Norris has the ability to float a drone right above the quarterback’s head, watching his progressions, seeing how the offensive line operates, etc. With all of the precision and execution required to perfect a play, this data is incredibly valuable.

Norris has been using drones at UCLA’s practices since last spring. Norris noted that having a drone sit right above the line of scrimmage is somewhere that they’ve never been able to access before. They have the ability to look at the linemen’s footwork, hand placement and schemes. It’s impossible to see these details from the sideline.

The first adopters in the sports industry were those participating in extreme sports – skateboarding, snowboarding, motocross, etc. It offered a way to view their mechanics, critique their form and improve their skills.

Now, many startup drone companies are trying to acquire football teams as a client. Michael Williams, a student at Oregon State, simply visited the Beavers’ practice and started filming. He handed the coaches a tablet computer and allowed them to watch the footage in real time.

With FAA regulations limiting drone use to less than 400 feet in the air, it is very feasible for teams to operate the system without any intervention. Don’t be surprised if we see more and more drones popping up at practices across the country.