Grand Forks startup partners with ESPN, uses drone to film Carson Wentz

Carson Wentz nearly took out a drone with his football yesterday morning.

The North Dakota State University quarterback and NFL draft poster boy filmed with ESPN all day yesterday, March 22, for an upcoming promotional video. SkySkopes, a Grand Forks based startup barely one year old, partnered to provide the drones-eye-view.

ESPN reached out to SkySkopes three weeks ago, after hearing about their video services from local drone marketing company Launchboxx. They joined forces at sunrise, ESPN videographers walking down Broadway and SkySkopes videoing from their airborne drone.

When ESPN wanted a shot of a drone flying just over the football, the only reason the SkySkopes team agreed was because they knew Wentz was a good shot.

“Still… he almost hit the drone,” SkySkopes CIO Jack Wilcox said. “We wouldn’t have let him do it if he wasn’t going to be drafted. But he did make us all gasp at one point.”

SkySkopes, which uses drone video footage for everything from tower inspections to aerial college campus tours, is one of only three other drone companies to work with ESPN for aerial video footage, Wilcox said.

SkySkopes primarily uses their drones to film cell tower inspections, as can be seen here:

They are also one of the only companies with the credentials to do work like this, Wilcox said. Shooting in a closed set and working with a police department requires special licenses, which SkySkopes has acquired. They were also the first startup in North Dakota to receive a Section 333 exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration in 2015.

SkySkopes was started by University of North Dakota graduate student Matt Dunlevy in October of 2014. The team has since grown from four to eleven, including past and present UND students.

Working with ESPN and Wentz was a totally new experience, Wilcox said. After shooting on Broadway, they moved to the Fargodome and filmed indoors, and then out to a bison ranch in Jamestown. There, the SkySkopes pilots used a drone to film bison stampeding as Wentz posed in the foreground with a football.

“The bison were scared of the drone, so we had to chase after them,” Wilcox said. “So now we’re UAV pilots and bison herders.”

Wilcox said they hope to continue their relationship with ESPN with the potential of working with them in the future. The complete promotional video will premier on ESPN 2 on April 28, the opening night of the NFL draft.

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Photos courtesy of SkySkopes.

Marisa Jackels

Marisa Jackels

, Drone Focus
Kilbourne Group