Over the years, National Football League games have been delayed for a variety of reasons. Weather and lightning have been the most frequent culprits. Games have also been delayed by power outages at the stadium, idiots on the field, pre-game pyrotechnics catching the field on fire, squirrels, and even a black cat. But Sunday, for the first time in league history, an NFL game was delayed due to a drone in the vicinity.
Sunday’s Falcons vs. Seahawks game was delayed for about eight minutes in the 4th quarter after a drone was spotted in the air in the vicinity of Lumen Field in Seattle. Security officials cleared the field and waited for the unauthorized drone to clear the area. The operator of the drone, and why it was in stadium airspace, was unknown.
While this was the first drone delay in NFL history, it was the second such incident in as many days in the Seattle area. On Saturday evening, the University of Washington game against Stanford was delayed when a drone was spotted over the stadium. It was later discovered the drone belonged to the University of Washington and had, reportedly, gone rogue.
While a more specific reason was not provided, a drone “going rogue” most often means the drone is no longer responding to commands from its remote control. That can be caused by signal interference between the drone and the controller, the drone’s “return-to-home” function (which automatically returns a drone to its launch point with the loss of signal or waning battery power), or a combination of the two.
Since 9/11, airspace around large outdoor sports events has been tightly controlled by the FAA without proper training, licensing, and flight plan approval. And, given their notable increase in quantity, size, and power, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are now subject to even more stringent restrictions at all times. In most cases, flying drones in the vicinity of the stadium is prohibited starting one-hour before and ending one hour after the game in the NFL, MLB, NCAA Division I Football, NASCAR, and Indy Car events. That no-fly window is enforced within a three-nautical mile radius of the stadium or venue.
Violating a no-fly zone at a sporting event can have serious consequences. Most recently, two Ohio men were charged in federal court over separate incidents where each flew a drone over stadiums full of fans in Cincinnati.
With all that said, should you see a drone over a major sporting event, it’s likely it has permission to be there. Many professional sports organizations have adopted drones to bring television viewers closer to the action and to provide better views of the action. Most notably, in 2022, Major League Baseball has been experimenting with using drones at field level to follow runners as they round the bases after home runs and pitchers as they head for the dugout or emerge from the bullpen.
Finally, to keep this sports news-related, the drone delay wasn’t the only first in Seattle on Sunday. The Falcons beat the Seahawks 27-23 for their first win of the 2022 season. Atlanta was led by running back Cordarrelle Patterson, who ran for 141 yards and one touchdown, and rookie wide receiver Drake London, who hauled in three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.