How Microsoft Is Changing the NFL

Pros for pros.

121 Comments

The coming NFL season brings a noticeable change on the technology front. The NFL has formed a partnership with Microsoft that will put specially built versions of the Surface Pro 2 on each sideline and in the coaching boxes. This is not just product placement, though. Rather, this is an effort to modernize an element of the game that, until this season, relied on fax machines and telegraph wires to distribute important information.

First, an explanation of how things used to work. When a team is no longer on offense, the quarterback heads to the sidelines to review what just occurred. He is given printouts of player alignment before the ball was snapped, and he analyzes these with coaches to determine how the other team is playing defense. This situation happens dozens of times throughout a game, with a variety of positions and coaches looking at this information.

Now, instead of those reports being delivered on paper, players and coaches will be able to review what just happened with a Surface Pro. Called the "Sideline Viewing System," this streamlines a process that fans may not notice, but is imperative for strategical changes. For instance, it can take up to 45 seconds for a fax to print out, whereas information can be transmitted to the surface within five seconds.

Other elements will seem second nature for those using smart devices. Players can pinch and zoom to see details that would have been harder to make out on a static piece of paper, and draw route reminders, strategy shifts, or any other pertinent information. And tablets, unlike their paper counterparts, are in full color. Any changes can be immediately saved so coaches and players can quickly refer to past plays to see what occurred.

One thing that is absent from these surfaces is video. It was agreed by the NFL rule makers that video would give a competitive advantage that isn't present when viewing still photos. Instead, this is meant to make the old process more efficient by eliminating the clunkier element of handling paper rather than bestowing a tangible advantage to quarterbacks or coaches. There are no outside apps, either, that could interfere with the game. So players will not be able to use the internet to gain information that could help them on the field.

The tablets being used during NFL games are different than those that are available to consumers. They come with a hard case that can withstand more punishment than the typical person would typically dish out, though it will still break if, say, a lineman stands on it. It's also able to withstand rain and cold, along with extreme temperatures. There's no comment if such changes will make it into a consumer product down the road, however.

What other technological advances could improve the NFL? Hit us up with your ideas in the comments below.

Did you enjoy this article?

  • Join the conversation
    There are 121 comments about this story