As Drones Take Off, MLB Has to Play Defense

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“The bottom line is we never know if the intent of that person is to injure someone or just to have a scenic shot.”

Vern Conaway was watching a YouTube video when he first realized he would have to start paying attention to drones.

The vice president of public safety and security for the Maryland Stadium Authority—responsible for both Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium—found the video shortly after it was uploaded in 2014. It showed footage of Baltimore, taken by a drone flying over the city’s inner harbor before heading in the direction of Camden Yards, close enough to show a packed stadium with players on the field mid-game. It didn’t fly directly overhead, so it had not been noticed at the time, but it came fairly close.

This, Conaway realized, was going to be a problem.

Read more: Want dreamy winter photos? Take to the air with a drone

Now, almost seven years later, it’s clear that he was right—which you might have noticed if you paid close attention to baseball last season. The Federal Aviation Association bans unmanned aircraft systems (drones) from flying over a stadium while a game is in progress. Yet after a handful of scattered incidents over the last few years, MLB saw five games interrupted by rogue drones in 2020. That’s a record high for a league that says it generally sees just one or two such incidents a year—which is particularly notable given the regular season was months shorter than usual.

There’s a guess among ballpark security directors that this increase may have been partially driven by the pandemic: “With the absence of fans in the stands in 2020 due to the pandemic, we anticipated an uptick in drone activity around games, because we believed fans who may be unaware of drone regulations would be curious to see what was going on inside our ballparks,” MLB vice president of security and ballpark operations David Thomas writes in an email. But the increase also matches broader trends that existed before COVID-19: Drones are more common than ever, they’re only continuing to grow in popularity and they’re increasingly a question for security professionals at ballparks.

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Source: EMMA BACCELLIERI

Photo credit: Press



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