Sports Facilities

Game of Drones: Stadium Regulations are Coming

1 May, 2019

By: Michael Popke

Drones continue to create a buzz — and not always a good one ­— in cities with high-profile sports teams. Michael Whittle, general counsel for Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals, recently appeared before a U.S. Senate panel asking lawmakers to include sports stadiums with seating capacities of 30,000 or more as part of a proposed bill that would ban the flying of drones over prisons, mental hospitals and county jails.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing in our current Missouri law that would make it unlawful for a drone operator to fly a drone into a mass gathering space, such as a large open-air stadium, imposing a threat to its occupants and/or causing an actual attack and/or mass panic or fear from an attack,” Whittle said, according to KMOX NewsRadio 1120 in St. Louis.

Many opponents of flying drones over large public spaces fear they might carry explosives, or biological or chemical weapons.

Missouri is the latest state to enter the drone debate. Last fall, the National Football League called on U.S. lawmakers to place more restrictions on drones, labeling the unmanned aerial vehicles as a security threat at its stadiums. NFL representatives frequently refer to a California man who flew a drone over Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco and dropped leaflets during a 2017 game.

“We’re all very fortunate that the drone over Levi’s Stadium dropped just leaflets,” Cathy Lanier, the NFL’s senior vice president of security, testified to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in September 2018.“Drones today are capable today of inflicting much greater damage.”

On the eve of February’s Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, The Washington Examiner reported that federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were “ready to take down” any unauthorized drones in Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the game.

“Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened its retractable roof for the game, which allowed drones to enter the facility,” according to the paper. “While an unauthorized drone itself may not be a threat to the public, Homeland Security officials have previously warned about the risks they pose because of what they could carry. Border Patrol agents along the southern border have seen cartels in Mexico use drones to fly small quantities of high-potency drugs into the country.”

In early April, William N. Bryan — a top technology official for the Department of Homeland Security — said that the DHS encountered 54 drone “incursions” during the 2018 NFL season.

“I’m not saying any of them are nefarious, but just think about it. All they need is access,” Bryan told hundreds of private-sector security professionals during a speech at the International Security Conference in Las Vegas.

According to the Examiner, “counter-drone tools sometimes look like bullpup rifles that shoot an invisible, electronic signal to the drone with instructions to immediately return to its operator or to land immediately. These tools do this by jamming local cellphone towers so that they can shut down the drone and the means by which it is getting a signal from its operator.”


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