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NFLN considering use of drones to cover training camp


When the United States began using unmanned aircraft to track and kill enemies, the term “drone” acquired a meaning far more sinister than “worker bee.” When sports organizations began using remote-controlled helicopters, someone decided to apply the term “drone” to them, too.

It’s a bizarre decision. They’re drones, technically. But they’re not drones. They’re not inherently dangerous or menacing.

Unless, of course, something unforeseen happens with the technology, causing that blimp at the hockey game dropping T-shirts onto the crowd to itself drop onto the crowd, injuring a paying customer who may have assumed the risk of getting hit with a puck from below but not of getting struck by an aircraft from above.

ESPN recently delved into the boring-on-the-surface-intriguing-after-more-careful-thought question of whether the more innocuous type of drones fall within the scope of FAA regulation. It’s an issue that quickly will become relevant for the NFL.

Per a source with knowledge of the plans, the NFL’s in-house media conglomerate plans to use drones during production of this year’s Inside Training Camp series on NFL Network. While not a done deal yet, the plans are in place to use remote-controlled hovercraft to obtain TV images of practice.

The technology has intriguing possibilities. Presumably far cheaper and easier to manage than the Cablecam device, hovering aircraft could capture images that could be used for coaching, enhancing the in-stadium viewing experience, and/or watching the game from home.

But it’s hardly foolproof. A Cablecam ended up on the playing field nearly seven years ago. The Sunday night game between the Seahawks and Saints was delayed by roughly 10 minutes; however, the league insisted that the device didn’t actually crash to the ground.

Drones are smaller and lighter than the Cablecam apparatus, but there’s still a chance something could go wrong if/when flying cameras are used on an extensive basis over a practice field or a game site. It appears to be a risk the NFL is willing to take as it prepares to harness a new way to capture video of what happens when football is practiced or played.