This article is also available in German.

Drones easily evade traditional security measures and can quietly buzz in and around stadiums at any time, without disrupting operations, leaving many stadium managers to question whether they have unauthorized drones in the first place. When the lights are out, a drone might not be anything more than a nuisance or surveillance threat. On game day or when stadiums are in full operation, and security managers are responsible for the safety of thousands of people, a single drone can cause significant disruption and harm.

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When Drones Are the Starring Player of the Game

Drones are here to stay and are only increasing in their applications and numbers in the air. PwC has estimated the total market value of drone-powered solutions at over US$127bn. The UK Civil Aviation Authority estimates that there were nearly 90,000 drone operators in the UK in 2019, many of whom have not legally registered their aircraft.  

Even if every drone pilot were compliant with local registration regulations, there would still be many noncompliant pilots or pilots looking to evade registration. Look at five examples of how drones have recently disrupted stadium operations:

  1. Disrupting game time: One of the first recorded drone incidents at a stadium, at a qualification game for the 2016 UEFA Championship, a drone pilot flew a nationalist flag across the stadium, inciting a riot and ultimately forcing the game to end. Initially, the game was ruled as a forfeit, but the decision was ultimately reversed, with points docked for failing to control the crowd.
  1. Crashing into the stands: Hall of Fame drone crash entries include the 2015 US Open and the widely televised drone crash at a Major League Baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres.
  1. Illegal imaging & broadcast violations: Drone pilots might want to get an epic view of the game – but so do television broadcasters, who spend lots of money to secure exclusive rights to film. When a drone pilot attempted a flight at the 2019 SuperBowl, they violated not only federal airspace restrictions, but also common sense. After the Federal Bureau of Investigation captured the drone and the pilot, they moved forward with felony charges.  
  1. Espionage: Trying to get a sneak peek of a team’s new strategy? Just ask TSG Hoffenheim’s players what they thought of a drone hovering around their training sessions. Turns out, their rival German club Werder Bremen admitted to the reconnaissance act.  
  1. Contraband drops: In 2017, a drone pilot dropped propaganda fliers overhead two separate NFL games. The pilot was charged with violating temporary flight restrictions in national defense airspace.  

Global security leaders, including the European Commission and World Economic Forum, highlight how drones are an easy vehicle for terrorists to cause harm to stadiums and large gatherings. These examples are just the beginning of the stories of drones coming to stadiums, and Dedrone documents publicly announced drone incursions here in our global database.  

Even During Shutdown, or During Off-Season, Drones Continue to Enter Restricted Stadium Airspace

For stadiums who have not experienced a drone incursion, is anecdotal evidence of an airspace threat enough to warrant further investigation? Our latest webinar, featuring Threat Management Group, explores this topic further, and the recording is available here.

In the next part of this two-part series on stadium airspace security we’ll explore how stadium managers can get started to answer some important questions about their vulnerability to airspace incursions.

Susan Friedberg

About the author

Susan is the Director of Communications at Dedrone and has researched, developed, and led the conversation on drones, counter-drone technology, and airspace security since 2016.

Susan Friedberg

Originally published Jul 16, 2020, updated Aug 7, 2022