A drone is flown for recreational purposes in the sky above Old Bethpage, New York on August 30, 2015.

Am I the only one who saw the news that the National Football League is now authorized to use drones in stadiums and thought, wow, Roger Goodell really does have too much power?

The NFL recently requested the use of drones for filming in league stadiums and, per the FAA, was granted limited use of these souped-up radio controlled cameras in step one of what is clearly a plan for world domination.


That is the plan, right? Eventually the NFL is either going to start attaching packages to these drones for speedy in-market deliveries of NFLShop.com merchandise, or begin spying on everyone in the world under the ruse of “filming” team “practices.” (Or the Roger Goodell-led targeted drone strike thing. Yeah, it’s probably that.) From SportTechie.com:

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted permission to the NFL to film using drones, in a letter dated September 17. Fans shouldn’t get too excited though, as the filming must be limited to empty stadiums and therefore cannot yet be used to film live game footage.

The conversation began in June when the NFL began investigating the Cowboys, Giants, and Patriots for their use of drones during live practice without the proper FAA permission. FAA regulations state that any organization must have prior permission to fly drones for commercial purposes.  The drones were largely used as a player development tool in these instances, but nonetheless still lacked the necessary permissions.

I mean, come on, this story writes itself! The Patriots were illegally using drones for “player development” so the NFL petitioned the FAA to legalize their use? And Jerry Jones is in on it, too? Replace the Giants’ involvement with a subplot including Daniel Snyder flying a drone over a reservation or Jimmy Haslam using one at a middle-American truck stop and it’s almost too good to be true!

Per the FAA approval, it really is almost too good to be true. There are a lot of rules the NFL must follow when legally using a drone to film football activities.


For starters, the NFL drones can’t weigh more than 55 pounds, fly faster than 100 mph or travel more than 400 feet off the ground, despite having to stay, per FAA.gov, “at least 500 feet from all nonparticipating persons, vessels, vehicles, and structures.” Oh, and the person controlling the drone has to basically be an actual pilot:

Under this grant of exemption, a PIC must hold either an airline transport, commercial, private, recreational, or sport pilot certificate. The PIC must also hold a current FAA airman medical certificate or a valid U.S. driver’s license issued by a state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, a territory, a possession, or the Federal government. The PIC must also meet the flight review requirements specified in 14 CFR § 61.56 in an aircraft in which the PIC is rated on his or her pilot certificate.

This is not just some radio-controlled helicopter with a GoPro on it. This is some serious business, and the NFL and NFL Films certainly knew that when they filed for this exemption. In addition to all the legal mumbo-jumbo about flight regulations in its request, the NFL included the stipulation that drones would only be used on “closed-set” locations on non-game days.

NFL Films proposes that it receive an exemption to use sUAS to gather footage from closed-set locations in and around NFL stadiums (on non-game days) and NFL practice facilities. NFL Films would use the footage for the production of television programs.

For now, sure, the drones can be used for filming practices or the occasional hype video, but it won’t be long before the program undoubtedly expands to in-game filming. Fox already utilized a drone—and made an enormous deal about it­—during its coverage of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay this past summer. It’s not a far step to assume the NFL rights holders would much rather use a camera on a drone in each stadium than wire up the cable cam week after week.


At some point, drones in stadiums will be as commonplace as those miniature blimps that drop potato chip coupons during intermission at basketball arenas. Until then, the NFL and NFL Films will be limited to use in closed-set, vacant stadiums.

Well, other than the Patriots. They’ll still do whatever they want.

About Dan Levy

Dan Levy has written a lot of words in a lot of places, most recently as the National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. He was host of The Morning B/Reakaway on Sirius XM's Bleacher Report Radio for the past year, and previously worked at Sporting News and Rutgers University, with a concentration on sports, media and public relations.

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