Are drones used in football?

Like any sport, football is a game of advantages. Small changes both on and off the pitch can turn last season’s relegation escapees into this year’s playoff favourites. Up and down the country, teams are seeking out new ways to get a leg up on the competition. Whether that be through tactics, training or technology. One recent innovation has been the introduction of drone technology. So are drones used in football and, if so, how?

Drone popularity has surged in recent years. Aerial views that were once only possible with expensive cameras and cranes can now be obtained with a cheap drone and minimal practice.

Object tracking and autopilot offer limitless, hands-off filming potential and, although safety regulations make drone filming within stadiums unlikely, they could serve as a great tool for helping teams make strategic changes to push places up the table. The use of drones in football could yield a cost-effective, tactical advantage for clubs who aren’t willing, or able, to spend record fees on new signings.

In recent years, football has become a game dominated by money. Large-scale takeovers and foreign investment mean huge spending in any area that may give a competitive edge. Spending on academies, scouts, training staff, transfers and agent fees have been on the yearly rise, without any sign of slowing down.

The extra edge that a star signing can bring to a club is one of the reasons why the record transfer fee has increased so dramatically in the last decade. Ibrahimovic’s 2009 move to Barcelona for £56,000,000 versus Neymar’s 2017 move to PSG for £198,000,000 demonstrates the astronomical figures now involved, an increase of more than 250% in less than ten years. Wanting this type of competitive edge in the world’s most popular sport clearly comes at a price.

Obviously spending at this level is only available to the top teams, meaning the more fiscally responsible and FFP compliant clubs have to be more resourceful. For the majority of lower leagure clubs, the promise of this season’s playoff push comes from positive changes on the training pitch. From a coaching standpoint, movement, formation and strategy are everything. The more information a coach has at their disposal, the greater their ability to make effective tactical changes.

What problem does using drones in football solve? Simply put – views and angles. The typical touchline position has the coach watching from a side-on perspective. This lateral viewpoint, although close to the action, only allows for a one-dimensional shot of what’s happening on the pitch.

When you’re watching the game live on television, the cameras are placed high up in the stands. On match days, rugby coaches are seated high up in the ground. The same goes for the NFL touchline staff and their use of remote video viewing. High positioned cameras allow the viewer to see as much of the action as possible in a single frame.

The introduction of drones into football is one of the more promising developments on football’s horizon. With the average high-powered drone costing between just £3,000 – £5,000, a smaller club budget does not mean less creativity or innovation in the training ground.

Relative to other technology, commercial drone flight is a fairly new endeavour. As the technology becomes more readily available, more and more famous faces are beginning to see it’s utility as a training aid. Michael Owen, Thierry Henry and David Powderly have been vocal about their use of drones to film and analyse practices and the benefits it brings to match day.

A drone’s aerial view of the pitch, operated by coaching staff, gives managers a much clearer overall picture of the team’s movement and positioning. Greater tactical changes can be made as a result, as watching from a birds-eye view gives a far better understanding of where each player is in all training scenarios.

For the foreseeable future, drones in Football will remain a closed-door affair. Safety concerns make flying a drone in a stadium of thousands of people a logistical nightmare. Regulations around drone flight are extensive, especially when crowded areas are involved. Commercial drone operators require a CAA license which, as more teams adopt drone technology in training, could become a big bonus for any new coach to have on their CV.

Will there come a time where those that don’t seek an aerial view of their team’s training be at a disadvantage? It’s possible. Most would agree that when it comes to introducing new technology, football has oftentimes been slow to adapt. But one thing’s for certain – this fledgling technology offers up a new avenue for both drone and football enthusiasts to explore and benefit from in the long run.  So are drones used in football? Increasingly so and they will surely become integral in the years to come.



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