03Apr 2019

Stadium Security: Protecting your stadium from drone threats

Stadium Security

From recreational youth soccer games to professional NFL games, no sporting event is immune to the increasing threat of drones. Many sports security professionals believe drones along with active shooters and vehicular ramming are the top threats to stadium security today.

In the past two years, the world has seen the proliferation of drones. Drones are cheap and easy to attain for both hobbyist and commercial users. We have watched drones doing incredible things to save lives and keep humans out of danger. We have also been witness to the dangerous side of drones. During this time of great proliferation, criminals used UAS in a variety of vile and threatening ways, such as: in the battlefield strapped with explosives, in an assassination attempt, to disrupt major airports, to smuggle drugs to prisoners, and to interfere with the FBI and other law enforcement.

You don’t even need a drone with a heavy payload capacity to conduct criminal acts, even smaller drones pose a significant threat. 

Soft targets, such as stadiums and other spectator venues, are particularly vulnerable to drone attacks. Whether by careless pilot error or malicious actors with intent to harm, drones used in the dangerous ways above highlight the need to consider these six issues when evaluating stadium security related to drones and drone countermeasures.

  • Issue #1 Drone Threat: Are drones a security risk at my stadium?

Rather than promote specific products or services, the goal of this blog series is to provide you with a comprehensive approach to address the security concerns of stadium operators and stadium security officers. Continue along while we jump in and discuss the issues you and your colleagues are having.

Issue #1: Drone Risks to Stadiums

Stadium security officials are beginning to see the urgency in closing the security gaps exposed by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). NFL Senior Vice President of Security, Cathy Lanier, has spoken out about the need to counter potential threats from drones. On September 13, 2018, Lanier gave testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and she stated: “in 2018, the NFL recorded about a dozen intrusions by drones at stadiums during games.” Lanier not only spoke about the concerns of rogue drones for the NFL but safety concerns for all sports stadiums and arenas.

Examples of drone incidents at stadiums:


How big of a risk are drones at my stadium?

Each of the above drone incidents has given stadium operators and security personnel cause to reexamine drone threats and their current security. So far, drones have been more of a nuisance and not a cause of severe human harm at sporting events. However, that doesn't mean the threat drones pose is not real; unauthorized drones have the potential to be very dangerous to event-goers and sports teams.

Safety Concerns

There are two primary safety concerns related to rogue drones flying over spectators at sporting events.

1. Injury: a drone could malfunction and fall on fans, as happened to a woman in Las Vegas during a 4th of July celebration.

2. Dangerous payload: a drone could be used to carry explosives, chemicals, or other hazardous substances into the stadium.

Motives of attack

Drone threats to stadiums and sporting venues could originate from two, unintentional or targeted, sources.

1. Unintentional: Careless/Negligent Drone Pilot

2. Targeted: Domestic/International Terrorist, Hacker, Nefarious Actor/Lone wolf

Level of Drone Risk

Your risk level can best be understood as the probability of the event occurring multiplied by the product of the consequence of an event: Drone Risk = Probability of Drone Incursion x Consequence of Drone Incident.

Probability of drone incursion

The assessment of probability is simple and can be scored based on the number of drone intrusions happening at your stadium. While the first instinct might be to ask employees to report drone sighting and keep records of the events, be aware this method will be extremely inaccurate. Relying solely on human eyes may lead your team to a false sense of security.

The best way to determine the frequency of drone sightings is to monitor drones with drone detection technology. Reputable companies will allow you to try out or rent drone detection equipment for a trial period (60-day or 90-day trial); this will give the most accurate numbers to analyze the actual probability. Accurate probability will help your security team evaluate the priority of the risk and how it should fit in your overall security plan.

Consequence of drone incursion

The determination of consequences can be somewhat speculative. However, the subjectivity can be lessened using data or facts collected from similar events.

For example, what are the potential consequences of a drone flying over your stadium? We know it can cause delays in gameplay, panic from fans, and delays in tv scheduling; all which could lead to financial losses.

It is up to owners, facility managers, and other stakeholders to determine what risk is acceptable and unacceptable. Understanding the scope of possible risks and consequences will help you develop realistic, safe, and cost-effective strategies for dealing with unauthorized UAS.

Up Next: We will consider Issue #2: Economic Impacts of Drone Incursions at Stadiums to help you better assess where drone mitigation falls in your list of security priorities.