Soccer is a stubborn old sport, generally slow to adapt new rules or technology. FIFA, the sport’s governing body, only introduced a system to figure out if balls had crossed the goal line last year, whereas tennis got similar technology a decade ago. But now coaches in the English Premier League have started using drones to film their team’s training sessions, The Guardian reported.
Everton FC, the second-most famous club in Liverpool, is capturing aerial footage of its training matches to help manager Roberto Martinez coach more effectively. According to Michael Owen, former Liverpool and Real Madrid star turned commentator, the team is using drones from M7 Visuals—an aerial cinematography company he’s invested in—to film the sessions.
“A lot of teams now are using this drone technology to go up and film training sessions so you then can literally say to people you’re in this position, you should be covering,” Owen said at Soccerex, the sport’s annual business conference, reported The Guardian.
For decades, teams have been filming their practices to show players what they were actually doing, and how they can improve. In rugby—unlike many other team sports—the managers tend to sit in the stands, high above the field, to get a more holistic overview of how their team is performing. In soccer, these views have generally only been found in video games. Aerial footage from drones can bring that same overview, and myriad new viewing angles, to real-life soccer, while allowing managers to remain pitchside to coach their teams.
Mark Wynne, the founder of M7 and friend of Owen, told Quartz that he set up the company after Owen saw him using drones to film horses. Through Owen’s connections, they were able to demo the technology for the Welsh national soccer team. The trial was successful and M7 began filming the team’s practices at Dragon Park. An analyst with Everton found out that Wales was using drones for tactical analysis, and invited M7 up to Finch Farm—Everton’s training facility—for a demo. “We did a trial, and literally everyone said ‘wow,’” Wynne said.
Wynne said M7 has been working with Everton for over six months. “Not one player has complained about the noise,” he said. Everton buys its own memory cards for Wynne’s drones, meaning the footage—which would likely be useful to any team playing Everton or thinking of buying one of its players—stays with the team. Wynne said he is working with a few other Premier League clubs, including Manchester City, Liverpool, and Swansea, to bring drones to their training facilities. “One hundred percent this will become the standard in the future,” he added.
The Premier League isn’t the only league experimenting with drones. In the US, the Seattle Sounders soccer team has been filming some practices from overhead since at least November. In the NFL, the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys have both filmed practices with drones, though apparently without the consent of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Don’t expect, however, to see drones filming Premier League matches any time soon. Lynne said he thought it was unlikely that drones would be used to film live matches in the near future, as the logistics of dealing with drones flying over crowds of thousands of people won’t be easy to solve. In the UK, commercial drone operators need to pass a flight test and an operations manual that has to be approved by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority. “We’re all about safety,” he said. And that level of safety is going to be hard to guarantee until drones can be flown without the possibility of a crash. “Everyone wants it,” Wynne said, “but it’s quite a ways off yet.”