And the hits just keep on comin’ in 2020 don’t they? Last Tuesday, August 4th, an MLB game between the Twins and Pirates at Target Field was delayed. The culprit? An unauthorized drone spotted over the stadium.
FOX Sports North tweeted, “Save your artsy drone footage of Minneapolis for after the game, please.”
Pitchers in the bullpens attempted to take the drone down by throwing baseballs at it but were unsuccessful. In order to not digress, let’s just say this approach is risky and not advisable!
Rules for Drones at Stadiums
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has strict rules to prevent drone activity at stadiums. Pilots cannot fly within a radius of three nautical miles of an MLB stadium. The restriction starts one hour before the game’s start time and lasts until one hour after the game is over. This is also the case for the NFL, some NCAA football games, as well as auto racing events.
But obviously, these rules didn’t stop the pilot at Target Field who may or may not be aware of these restrictions. The pilot has not been caught, so we can’t know for sure what his/her intentions were.
What happened at Target Field is unfortunately not the first time a drone pilot has ignored FAA rules for stadiums. Over the past several years, multiple drone incursions have occurred, some even causing injury to spectators.
That was the case at a 2017 Padres and Diamondbacks game when a drone slammed into a fan. To quote a Sports Illustrated Article by Jon Tayler about the incident, “Behold the perils of attending a sporting event in the 21st century: One moment, you’re in your seat enjoying a leisurely baseball game, and the next, a battery-powered piece of plastic with a bunch of rotors on it is slamming into you out of nowhere.”
During the recent British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit, police caught someone attempting to fly a drone over the track. This occurred even though the Civil Aviation Authority of the UK had imposed a flight restriction for the whole weekend of the event.
This year the race had zero fans due to the coronavirus pandemic, when it normally hosts over 140,000.
We know that hobbyist pilots regularly disregard FAA rules or are unaware of them. But are the incidents at Target Field and Silverstone Circuit the beginning of a new trend for outdoor stadiums and arenas? Some leagues have already made the decision to not allow any fans while some will allow a smaller number. So, will avid fans not allowed to attend their favorite events resort to inadvertently endangering athletes and/or fans by using drones? Or maybe hobbyists assume that the stadiums are empty at this time and think it's okay to fly.
Given the current global pandemic and related fan restrictions, threats from hobbyist drones at these venues may very well increase. Stadium directors/managers and security teams across the globe should be prepared to identify and respond to such incidents.
First Update: Since this article was written and posted, another MLB game was delayed because of a drone on August 13th. This time it was Fenway Park during a game between the Red Sox and Rays. The drone pilot was a 16-year-old male accompanied by a friend.
Second Update: Since the last update, a drone caused yet another delay at an MLB game on September 2nd. The Yankees and Rays were playing at Yankee Stadium when the second base umpire noticed the drone flying over the field. The pilot was not found.
Third Update: Since the last update, a similar incident on the West Coast occurred. A game between the Dodgers and Rockies was delayed when a drone flew over Dodgers Stadium. The whereabouts of the pilot was not mentioned.
Fourth Update: Since the third update, yet another drone delay occurred. This time at Wrigley field during a Cubs/Indians game, and the drone landed on the field. There was no mention of the responsible pilot.