Sports Law • Risk Management

An Overview of Drone Use for Sports Facilities

Drone use at sporting events has made international news in the last month when a drone piloted by a New York City high school science teacher crashed during a women’s singles match at the U.S. Open Tennis Championship. Days later, a drone crashed at the stadium shortly before a Kentucky football game. There were no injuries as a result of those two incidents. However, in a triathlon filmed in Australia, an athlete was injured by a drone within meters of the finish line. These incidences bring to light the challenges sports organizations face in determining their policies regarding drone use.
A facility may allow drone use for their many advantages. The devices offer football teams the ability to film practices and games to provide analytic data, such as hand and foot placement and spacing. They are valuable for use for officiating, such as in polo matches. They’ve been used successfully in the U.S. by the PGA Tour, Formula One races, high school football practices, surfers, and snowboarders. The unmanned machines have also been used in cricket matches in Australia, soccer games in Brazil and snowboarding during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Despite the benefits of obtaining aerial footage at a low cost, drone use poses serious security, safety, and privacy issues. They could be carrying weapons or anthrax; there is a risk of injury to competitors and spectators from crashes; and they could invade the privacy of persons or teams videotaped.
Last October, the FAA issued notice that it’s illegal to fly drones near Major League Baseball, NFL games, NCAA Division 1 college football games and major auto races and thereafter, they’ve issued cease-and-desist-orders to drone operators it believes have violated the law. Other sporting events can put their own bans in place. Otherwise, laws regarding drones are murky, as they are in flux and vary from state to state.
It’s prudent for sports organizations to research applicable laws and regulations involving drones and to develop policies for their use. They may determine that drones must stay above a certain elevation and within a certain distance of an event within a certain number of hours before and after. Signage regarding drones and other means of communicating the policy should be established.
It is likely that there will be a significant increase in drone use and accidents in upcoming years. Because of this, your organization should consider addressing the following questions in order to establish a drone risk management plan:
1. What are the applicable laws for drone use for your organization?
2. Does your organization have policies in place for drone use?
3. How are those policies communicated to the public?
4. What procedure will be followed should the policies be violated?
5. What persons in your organization are in charge of drone use policies, communication and enforcement?
6. What is the procedure for reviewing and updating policies?
Once your organization has addressed the above questions, you will have decreased the risk of drone use to your facilities and their users.