Fox Sports Runs Drone Tests Prior to Supercross Event

Since the Federal Aviation Administration carved out a limited window for legal drone use by film and television producers last year, the race has been on among some of the top sports networks to test out how the tools could enhance live sports production.

Fox Sports Drone Supercross

Fox Sports conducted tests of drone cameras during practice at a Monster Energy AMA Supercross event at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (Courtesy: Fox Sports)

Last Friday, Fox Sports conducted the latest of its tests — partnering with Austin, TX-based HeliVideo Productions and Feld Motor Sports — using multiple live-coverage drone cameras while shooting Monster Energy AMA Supercross riders during a practice run at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“The shots we saw were downright amazing,” says Brad Cheney, director of technical operations for Fox Sports. “These riders are doing upwards of 40 mph on this course. They are going from 10 to 40 mph in nothing. We were worried the drones might not be able to keep up, but they were able to go down one chute, around the corner, follow them back up again, and hand them off to the next drone. It worked much better than I ever could have expected.”

Shooting for more than an hour, three drones were supplied by HeliVideo, each one outfitted with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 camera (which has a 4K sensor, but Fox runs it at 1080p). A pilot, a camera operator, and a spotter accompanied each unit.

According to Cheney, Fox had internally bounced around ideas as to what events to introduce this technology, and a unique property like Supercross got the nod.

“It took some time to figure out what was doable in a safe environment that’s really dynamic and difficult,” says Cheney. “We looked at all of our rights packages and thought, as cool as it would be to run some drones above some golfers or above a basketball court or hockey rink, at this point, there was too much risk involved.”

The safety of testing indoors was also appealing.

“It was a really nice environment for this test,” says Cheney, “because we didn’t have to worry about wind or rain or environmental conditions that could hinder doing this.”

VIDEO: Watch footage from Fox Sports drone test.

VIDEO: Watch footage from Fox Sports drone test.

Fox Sports has built a legacy on experimenting with innovative production technologies. Drones got the attention of Fox Sports executives following some tests at a golf tournament at the end of last year.

“There is no question we are looking into ways to incorporate this next-level technology into a wide variety of our sports properties,” Fox Sports President/COO/Executive Producer Eric Shanks said in an official release. “We chose to run this live-event simulation with our friends at Feld Motor Sports because both companies share a passion for being on the cutting edge … always looking for what’s next.”

He added that the network hopes to bring drone coverage to other sports events in the near future.

“While certainly not limited to use in motor sports, capturing the speed and on-track aggressive competition of Monster Energy Supercross from new and unique angles with multiple drones in operation at the same time was a great place to start,” Shanks said. “We’re thrilled with what we learned from this live-event simulation, and we are excited to see where it takes us next.”

Footage collected during the simulation aired this past Saturday as part of Monster Energy Supercross live coverage broadcast on multiple Fox Sports platforms.

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