The FAA Plan to Prevent A Modern-Day “Fan Man” from Crashing the Super Bowl

What happens when drones invade stadiums.

Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images

Two months ago Slate asked me to watch every Super Bowl game ever played. I did so—watching roughly 160 hours worth of football—and then I wrote about it. I wrote about the meaning of the Super Bowl throughout the years; I wrote about the best and worst Super Bowl commercials of all time; I ranked every Super Bowl from top to bottom. I know a lot about the Super Bowl, is what I’m trying to say. So you should trust me when I say that the Super Bowl is no place for drones.

If you don’t trust me, then at least trust the Federal Aviation Administration, which really, really, really wants you to know that drones and the Super Bowl do not mix. The agency has issued a temporary flight restriction for all drone traffic within a 32-mile radius of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, between 2 p.m. and 11:59 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday. The Super Bowl drone ban should come as no surprise. The FAA already prohibits gametime drone traffic over major outdoor sporting events; and last year’s Super Bowl was subject to similar restrictions.

Decades ago, well-meaning intruders like James “Fan Man” Miller won fame for paragliding into boxing matches and buzzing NFL playoff games. But the sporting establishment frowned on Fan Man even back then, and there’s even less tolerance for airborne interruptions now, when everyone and their brother has a drone, and you don’t need a gigantic fan-powered parachute to stoke panic at big games. Over the past year or so, enough sporting events have been interrupted by errant drones for it to count as a minor epidemic. The FAA is basically saying “enough is enough.”

Anyway, violate this ban, and you risk being shamed and sanctioned; the Los Angeles Times reports that individual violators risk a potential $1,000 fine, while commercial violators risk a potential $27,500 fine. You also risk having your drone downed and destroyed by government personnel on the lookout for tiny flying security threats. Maybe your drone will be shot down; maybe an eagle will swoop up and grab it. Either way, if you violate the drone-free perimeter, it’s unlikely that you’ll see your device again.

“With so many drones being sold for recreational use, we want to do everything we can to get the word out that the game is a No Drone Zone,” FAA administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. The agency even produced a slick little video to help bring the message home, helpfully listing three things that you should bring to the game—your lucky jersey, your face paint, your team spirit—in lieu of your drone: 

This article is part of a Future Tense series on the future of drones and is part of a larger project, supported by a grant from Omidyar Network and Humanity United, that includes a drone primer from New America.