Usage of drones in sports communication…

case studies for new esthetics and enlargement of space

Talk at the IACS summit at Indiana University, Bloomington/USA on April 27th 2018 in cooperation with Thomas Horky


In digital media society usage of drones in sports communication gets more and more relevant, Goldberg, Corcoran and Picard (2013, p. 3) speak about a „generation drone“. The majority of research and literature mentions ethical and legal aspects of the drone’s use in public (Boucher, 2014; Gynnild, 2014). The drone is often associated with military (Roush, 2014), journalistic (Captain, 2012) or with privacy and data protection aspects (Boucher, 2014). Peissl, who investigated the drone’s employment using the example of Austria, adds further challenges for the society like environmental aspects (Peissl 2014). Liao and Humphreys (2015) present possibilities for augmented reality, Jablonowski (2014) shows esthetical effects with „selfies“ and demonstrates chances for expression of „surroundings“ which could be worth for sports communication.

Aspects for usage of drones or possibilities for enlargement of space and new esthetics in sports are very rare to find. Gynnild (2014, p. 341) points out: „The innovation of drones for journalistic purposes will most likely replace, or, more precisely, supplement visual news coverage on the ground with new kinds of aerial views as well as options for aerial close-ups that were formerly unseen.” Goldberg, Corcoran and Picard (2013, p. 21) focus on spatial effects of drones (RPAS) within huge (sports) events: ,,In addition to breaking news and investigative uses, RPAS can be used in sports coverage of bicycle races, marathons, and football matches where they can provide different visual perspectives than the cable- and track-based robotic cameras.” On the other hand they underline possible reciprocal effects: ”Because application of drones in journalism is only just emerging, it is unknown how the public will react to their use” (Goldberg, Corcoran, & Picard 2013, p. 24).

However, nearly none of the current studies answered the following research questions: What is the cinematic and dramaturgical challenge of drone’s usage in sports? What chances and risks become relevant for practical use?

To answer these questions about the usage of drones in sports communication we planned and organized several case studies within our university program related to drone’s usage. In Germany we find several programs related to movie making or technical preconditions for flying with drones. Nearly the same situation in the US, where we found 16 university programs related to drones, but most of them connected with aeronautics, surveying technical skills and military or civilian use for surveillance. Only two programs in Missouri and the Drone Journalism Lab at Nebraska-Lincoln are directly related to use of drones for media or journalism.

In our programs we tried to use drones within several different sports as big events inside the city like triathlon or water sports like sailing, rowing or canoeing and special situations like boxing in a closed, small arena. We want to find different possibilities for drone’s use in public relations of events or new chances for journalistic reporting. One advantage of the immersion with drone’s usage is the possibility to stage sports in space. In particular events with a huge number of participants or water sports, where you can’t reach the action by usual camera views, the drone captures special footage material to cover the action. The drone is the typical subjective form for storytelling as a reporter. You move directly close to the action, get a personal view as a journalist – and you’ll get interaction with the reporting objects. Especially inside the arena drones produce diversion issues for the athletes. On the other hand we can show advantages of drone’s pictures for location marketing or public relations of sports.

In particular with water sports we experienced several advantages using drones to show special connections between athletes on the ground or perspectives which can’t be seen from the shores. Also we used drones to cover minor sports which don’t have stands and therefore can’t provide traditional camera positions with a good angle to cover the action. If you fly with a drone you can imitate the stands and cover the action of sports without these high position views, which saves a lot of money for minor sports to produce TV material. In some situations we surveyed several interdependences between the action, the viewing angle of the drone and the flight paths used by the students. We believe there will be some common flight paths for drones in the future related to different sports, like different perspectives in sports photography used for different type of sports.

Our case studies focused on three different levels and areas of sports and sport communication: high-performance sports (football), aquatic sports (sailing/rowing) and niche sports in Germany (Australian Football). We tried to establish concrete application fields for the usage of drones in sports communication. Below we summarize the main effects concretized related to the different sports:

  • Esthetics of the communication space: The use of drones in sports communication changes perspectives in space. Moves and dynamics of different sports filmed by drones create pictures with new esthetics. This also influences the reception of the audience. It’s particularly visible concerning temporal aspects (dynamic vs. slow-down), but also regarding the overview (controlling and timing during training sessions).
  • Enlargement of different options for communication: With the usage of drones the diversity of camera perspectives increased. In case of aquatic sports, for example, camera perspectives are enabled, which are not approachable without drones. Of course, there are limitative effects regarding to indoor sports.
  • Changes for the organization of sports communication: Drones offer a chance for niche sports without big organization structures to generate professional pictures during sport events. For example, in the sphere of niche sports the new video- and camera-equipment can help to economize resources those as missing stands at events.
  • Influence of the communication situation: Apart from the distraction of public attention another effect seems to be characteristic: The presence of the drone itself, noticed as an extraordinary type of camera, influences the public as it evokes reactions from the athletes and from the audience. We sum up these effects as aforementioned reciprocal effects.


  • Boucher, P. (2014). Civil drones in society. Societal and Ethics Aspects of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. Luxembourg: European Union. Retrieved from
  • Captain, S. (2012). “Livestreaming Journalists Want to Occupy the Skies with Cheap Drones.” Wired, June 1st, retrieved from
  • Goldberg, D., Corcoran, M., & Picard, R.G. (2013). Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems & Journalism Opportunities and Challenges of Drones in News Gathering. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University: Oxford
  • Gynnild, A. (2014). The Robot Eye Witness. Extending visual journalism through drone surveillance. Digital Journalism 2, (3), 334-344
  • Jablonowski, M. (2014). Would you mind my drone taking a picture of us? Retrieved from
  • Liao, T., & Humphreys, L. (2015). Layar-ed places: Using mobile augmented reality to tactically reengage, reproduce, and reappropriate public space. New Media & Society, 17 (9), 1418-1435
  • Peissl, W. (2014). Drones, flying allrounders? ITA-Dossier, 6, January. Retrieved from
  • Roush, A. (2014). Up in the Air. The drone revolution isn’t coming – it’s already here. Can UT expertise help us navigate the future? Alcade, October 29th. Retrieved from


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