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October 21, 2016

Surface and the NFL: Changing the Game

This week Surface has been at the center of the debate on the role of technology in the NFL, with different opinions shared from coaches and players. We thought it might be valuable to share some additional context from our perspective.

We love the NFL. We love the game, the players, the coaches, and the fans. We have deep respect for the teams – and the IT Pro’s who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help them succeed.

Three years ago, we established a deep partnership with the NFL to change the game and deliver a new level of innovation – from improving the productivity of coaches and players on the sidelines to bringing a whole new experience to NFL fans from the comfort of their living rooms.

And now, every week nearly 2,000 Surface devices are deployed at 34 stadiums, and used extensively at over 330 NFL games each year. And like the players, Surface has had to perform reliably in tough conditions from the frozen tundra of Green Bay, to the 120 degree turf of Miami, through torrential rainstorms and blustery snowstorms.

Every game is different – with some teams living by their Surface for critical plays at key moments – and others using them to blow off steam by banging their head on them. Like the players in the NFL, Surface keeps going – helping teams use technology to their competitive advantage.

Surface and the NFL: Changing the Game

From Polaroids to Digital – Surface Offers a Winning Advantage

Before Surface, coaches and players pored over stacks of static, black-and-white photos of NFL plays to analyze the opposing team’s defense and strategize future plays. Someone had to take the images, send them to a printer, wait for black and white prints, grab them from the printer and work to stick them in a three-ring binder. If it rained or snowed, they would struggle to put them in a plastic sleeve, and then still need to find the coach to deliver the images.

Now, these teams can respond nearly in real-time – using Surface devices to view dynamic, full-color images, up to seven times faster than the printed page. Game analysis is more efficient, productive and competitive – enabling quicker decision making by coaches and players, in a game often decided by inches and seconds.

“You can imagine with a 15-play drive, there would be like 40 pages worth of stuff,” said Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints. “The staple wouldn’t go all the way through, and photos would be dangling and falling out, and then you’d have two plays and have to go back out on the field. Now you walk to the sideline and it’s seamless. With Surface, I can make plays instantaneously.”

Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints
Surface and the NFL: Changing the Game

“Every second counts and having Microsoft Surface technology on sidelines allows players and coaches to analyze what our opponents are trying to do in almost real time. Plus, the ability to zoom in on full color photos and really get a look at defensive alignments helps tremendously when trying to make adjustments on the fly.”

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson

Surface devices have become ubiquitous on NFL sidelines and in the coaches’ booth, and more than half of NFL franchises are using Surfaces end-to-end, as playbooks, to watch video and as a laptop replacement in their front office to handle the administrative duties of running the team.

“We live and die by Surface on the sidelines. When we’re not on the field we are adjusting and everybody is surrounding the one Surface. That’s our livelihood on Sundays. It’s so helpful to have four focused pictures we can zoom in on, rather than two black and white Polaroids.”

Brandon Fisher, Los Angeles Rams Defensive Backs Coach
Surface and the NFL: Changing the Game

At the same time, we know change can be hard and technology adoption typically has a growth curve. We’re excited to be working with some of the best IT professionals in the industry at the NFL to help with the transition.

The NFL Sideline: One of the Toughest Offices for IT

Consider the office environment of the NFL – an action-packed 8,000-square-feet sideline full of players, coaches, team personnel, media, cheerleaders and equipment. Bringing technology to any new environment is a complex job – but the NFL sidelines are among the most intricate, visible and stressful. When teams enter a stadium each week, the IT teams assess power sources, network connectivity strength and availability, potential extreme weather conditions, and the range of tech familiarity and acumen of coaches and players.

Amidst the chaos, each week a team of NFL IT staff rolls out the equipment – sets it up to each team’s specifications; connects network and communications; tests the systems; simulates games between the test cameras and the video directors to test the systems end-to-end; recharges devices; ensures appropriate protection from all sorts of extreme weather conditions; and helps the coaches and players get familiar with the set-up.

It’s an ever-changing, fast-paced technical environment – truly one of the toughest IT jobs on one of the world’s biggest stages, with hundreds of millions of viewers watching. We applaud these hard-working technical experts and appreciate their great partnership.

“We are proud of our relationship with Microsoft. We think they have a great product and they’ve done a great job in advancing technology into our game and influencing our game,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell when asked about the tablet. “It is changing the game. It’s changing for the better.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

We remain excited about the opportunity to drive innovation forward in the NFL and change the game for teams and fans around the world. We’ll continue to work with the NFL to address this complex environment and help the teams take advantage of cutting edge technology worthy of some of the best teams in sports.