Microsoft says it’s ‘just getting started’ with NFL technology

Surface-SidelinesTo help honor the Super Bowl’s golden anniversary — Super Bowl 50 is this February — you can expect some trips down memory lane throughout the upcoming season, celebrating pivotal moments from the NFL’s last 50 years.


Microsoft, though, is looking to the next 50.

As part of the $400 million, five-year contract that Microsoft signed with the NFL in 2013, the Redmond company is upping the ante this year for its technology on and off the football field.

“This year is unlike any other year as far as the NFL partnership,” Jeff Tran, Microsoft’s Director of Sports Marketing and Alliances, told GeekWire this week.

Last season, Microsoft endured a few hiccups with some of its technology implementation from a PR standpoint. As it introduced Surface tablets for players and coaches on the sidelines to replace traditional black-and-white paper printouts of past plays, some NFL announcers kept referring to the device as an “iPad-like tool.”

 Whether announcers figure out the difference between an iPad and a Surface this year is still up in the air. But you can expect to see more players and coaches using Microsoft’s device on the sidelines, particularly as the technology helps them win games.
Jeff Tran.
Jeff Tran.

“What we’ve really learned is that professional athletes and coaches, just like any profession, they want to get better — whether it’s diagramming a play in the coaches’ booth or seeing how a play unfolded immediately after the snap,” Tran said.

The idea is to replace the traditional printed paper black-and-white images of plays to analyze previous possessions, and instead use the waterproof tablets that allow for annotations on each photo with the Surface Pen.

Tran noted that players and coaches are using the tablet “in really crucial moments of the game.”

“If we can provide a product or service that professionals can use to gain an advantage, more and more will adopt the product,” Tran said. “It’s all about sharpening that blade and just bringing better technology to these professionals.”

Players and coaches are getting a Surface upgrade on the sidelines this season, moving from a custom-built Surface Pro 2 used last year to new Surface Pro 3 tablets that offer a bigger and thinner screen, lighter weight, clearer images, and a pen that can be used in four different colors.

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There’s also a new whiteboard screen that lets coaches and players diagram plays.


In addition to the new tablets, which will be used throughout the 2015-16 season, the NFL is testing video streaming to the devices during preseason games for both players and coaches, along with referees.

That means players and coaches will be able to watch replays of what just happened on the field. Referees, meanwhile, will be able to do the same and in some cases may not have to go “under the hood” to watch a replay. >more