NFL Expands Its Microsoft Surface Usage

Posted on August 11, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 35 Comments

NFL Expands Its Microsoft Surface Usage

Microsoft may have a Surface reliability problem on its hands this week, but the National Football League (NFL) is expanding its use of Surface devices in the 2017 season.

“This year, you’ll notice Microsoft Surface showing off its versatility in some interesting new places during NFL games,” Microsoft general manager Robert Matthews writes. “The power and versatility of Microsoft Surface make it a valuable tool for players, coaches, referees and front office personnel as the game evolves.”

Microsoft will pay the NFL an estimated $400 million over the course of its five-year deal. But there have been many setbacks, including TV announcers repeatedly referring to them as “iPads” and players taking out their on-field frustrations on the devices. But the biggest embarrassment, perhaps, was when New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick went on an extended rant against the Surface late last season, noting that they were “just too undependable.”

His comments about Surface reliability issues should resonate today given the recent Consumer Reports kerfuffle. Plus, Belichick’s Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl, yet again, and this time in dramatic fashion. He must be doing something right.

But the NFL is nonetheless pretty pleased with Surface, or perhaps there’s been an expanding investment from Microsoft. Either way, the league is using the devices in more places this season.

The most notable change is that referees will now use Surface Pro 4 devices as portable instant-replay systems on-field. Because of communications issues that Belichick and other coaches complained about in the past, however, these Surface devices will utilize wired connections for better reliability. One Instant Replay system will be positioned at each end of the field, Microsoft says.


Additionally, the NFL is expanding its use of Surface devices to include medical staff who need to make decisions about player health and safety during games. “Medical staffs will have access to the NFL’s Game Management System, an app that displays key moments in every game and allows for data collection and sharing across games,” Matthews says.

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Comments (35)

35 responses to “NFL Expands Its Microsoft Surface Usage”

  1. JerryH

    While Surface certainly has its share of issues, the issue that Belichick was complaining about was really communications. The Wi-Fi seemed to be down or unusable frequently. That really wouldn't have mattered what device was being used; if the Wi-Fi doesn't work, their app isn't going to be useful.

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    Unfortunately, I think it works, all you need to sow division these days is to just get people talking about the same thing, even if everything being said is wrong. And to be successful, all you need to do is to put a prototype into a rocket even as your main production line is struggling to clear a massive backlog of orders. 

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  16. rbgaynor

    "But the NFL is nonetheless pretty pleased with Surface"

    or perhaps they're pretty pleased with a $400 million check.

  17. Tom Wilson

    "Belichick’s Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl, yet again, and this time in dramatic fashion"

    They lose in even more dramatic fashion. Twice, actually.

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  18. Darmok N Jalad

    I have a hard time understanding the sports deals MS has set up for Surface. They appear to have a contract with CBS's PGA team as well, but the devices don't appear to be used at all, they just sit awkwardly in front of Nick and Jim. Maybe they actually use them, but they never show it on air. It ends up looking like product placement.

    Back in the NFL, MS just seems destined for bad publicity (like with Bill last year, or when a player throws one), and bringing them onto the field just begs for more problems. It is a virtual guarantee that something is going to go wrong in this application, especially considering these aren't ruggedized devices designed to function in the elements like some of the military grade stuff that is out there. Then it will be yet another heap of bad publicity when everyone talks about how Surface didn't work during a critical moment, even though it was probably a situation where no device would have worked--like in bad weather, or when the wifi network goes down in a stadium full of cellular devices. It just doesn't seem like a good idea to drop your products in a high-profile setting where the only way they get any real attention is when something goes wrong.

  19. bsd107

    "Because of communications issues that Belichick and other coaches complained about in the past, however, these Surface devices will utilize wired connections for better reliability. "

    But these wires will utilize Surface Connector and NOT USB-C. Another "fail".


  20. hrlngrv

    Re Belichick, it's just remotely possible that outstanding coaches and/or teams with bottomless resources to meet player payrolls don't need Surface tablets to be successful. OTOH, more effective Surface use could determine whether Chargers or Raiders do better even if neither makes to the playoffs.

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