According to Bloomberg News, the FAA has begun investigating at least three NFL teams that have started using drones to film their practices. So far, none of the teams have received any penalties and the investigation is ongoing. However, given that none of the teams have FAA exemptions either means that they could still be on the hook from penalties. All of the drone operations appear to be responsible and have never posed a serious threat to either the general public or to the national airspace, yet they are still being investigated. It is obvious that operating drones legally in a commercial environment has a lot more to do with publicity than it does with just being safe.
Very visible entities are being held to a much higher standard than those not in the public eye. For example, small farmers or real estate developers are unlikely to be investigated unless they do something dangerous. But companies like the NFL are much more public, and the FAA is more willing to target them for breaking the letter of the law. What this means is that, when considering if a drone is right for your business, it is important to know more than just the law, but also think about how visible your business is.
The NFL teams here should have known that they are a likely target for investigation. Just because individuals and hobbyists are flying these drones around with no threat of legal action does not mean that they can. If they had known about this, it would not have been all that difficult to obtain the proper permits and FAA exemptions, allowing them to fly completely legally. Given the safe and generally private and contained nature of these operations, it is possible for the NFL to operate drones completely legally, they just didn't know enough about how the industry works in practice.
All of this merely highlights the need for informed and knowledgable help when using drones in business. From understanding the legal questions to knowing what your actual risk of FAA investigation is, drones can be used more safely and profitably with professional help, avoiding huge amounts of negative publicity. The NFL should be allowed to use drones for their practices, and with enough information, they will be.