If you’ve watched any NFL games this last season it’s been hard to miss the new technology displayed on the sidelines. The bright blue Microsoft Surface tablets, complete with giant Microsoft branding, are being used by all 32 teams game after game. They’re part of a $400 million deal between Microsoft and the NFL to bring the game into the 21st century.
No, the tablets are not iPads, they are Surface Pro 2’s in a weatherproof case and outfitted with a special app. They run Windows at their core, but it’s hard to see that: there’s no web browser, no Start screen, and certainly no Facebook app. Microsoft weatherproofed them inside and out and modified them to work in extreme heat and cold, conditions that often occur at NFL games. The Surfaces are stored in special cabinets that recharge them and further protect them from the elements, if need be.
Each NFL stadium is equipped with two cameras that help teams make play calls: one that provides a close up shot of the line of scrimmage, and another that offers a wide field of view so coaches and players can see the full play. Those cameras aren’t new — they used to feed images to banks of printers that would spit out paper copies of each play during the game for immediate review by coaching staff. Paper comes with its own set of issues: it’s slow, wasteful, and falls apart in inclement weather. Now those cameras pipe images directly to the Surface tablets, eliminating the need for coaches to wait for the printers to do their jobs. Coaches can review images, mark them up using the Surface’s stylus, and save them.
This is certainly a big marketing play by Microsoft, but it’s equally a smart move by the NFL to bring more technology into the game and get real time data in the hands of players and coaches.