NFL and Microsoft Teams Sports Tech Hype

Referee Bill Vinovich (52) reviews a play with the Microsoft Surface replay screen during an NFL football game between the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. The Bills beat the Cowboys 26-15. (Cooper Neill via AP)

Microsoft and the NFL partnered in 2013 with a mission to have technology assist the sport and those involved including coaches, players, officials and fans, with the goal to improve the game of football for all. Last week they renewed their partnership via a multi-year extension. What most people are unaware of is the fact that during the 1997/98 NFL season, I was the Director of Sales for Sports 2000 providing sales, marketing and business development for our proprietary software product called the Gridiron 2000. The GI 2000 was an expert game-planning system co-developed by the Seattle Seahawks that ran on Windows 97. I believe I helped transform the NFL coaching ranks from being Mac-centric users to Windows-centric by educating the likes of Bill Walsh, Bill Bilichick and John Gruden, as well as Jerry Jones and even Nick Saban, among the hundreds of coaches, owners, front office and IT staff I touched through hardwork, networking and belief in the sports tech I pitched to them. It is awesome to know that 23-years later the NFL and Microsoft have a strong relationship Colonel James Thomes, the company founder and me helped foster all those seasons ago. Now through the Surface, Microsoft Teams and Windows 10 these partners use technologies for instant replay (which the new pass interference replays last season were clearly set up to fail by the NFL competition committee) as well as game planning, the NFL Draft and recent Scouting Combine, in addition to the constantly evolving digital fan experience. Mr. Yusuf Mehdi, the Corporate Vice President of Modern Life, Search & Devices at Microsoft shared a blog about this NFL sports technology story.

A Houston Texans coach looks at a play tablet with players on the sideline bench during the 2017 NFL week 2 regular season football game against the against the Cincinnati Bengals, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017 in Cincinnati. The Texans won the game 13-9. (Paul Spinelli via AP)

Surface

By now you have seen the Surface all over the NFL sidelines as players look over formations and alignments together with their position coach or coordinators. This task becomes especially important after the week’s scripted plays are exhausted and the real chess game begins on the field as coaches look to exploit matchups in addition to offensive or defensive weakness they can see on the Surface screen.

Mehdi states that in excess of 2,000 Surface devices and 170 Microsoft Servers combine to service 35 stadiums around the globe. I am educated guessing that means the 32 NFL stadiums that host games in the United States, Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, plus NFL London matches in Wembley Stadium and Twickenham in the UK. Does that mean Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the new Raiders venue is not on the list yet? Added to these stats, Microsoft technologies are powering an impressive 333 NFL gameday events.

Microsoft Teams

The new game changer in this business solution alliance is Microsoft Teams. The concept is for the league and teams to have a more collaborative environment. I find this sharing concept to be a bit of a reach because asking individual NFL organizations that strive to find creative competitive edges against each other to work together for the better of the league is never going to happen as planned in my opinion but it sure sounds good. In theory, this is a doable practice, in reality, not so much. Where this will work best is enhancing the fan experience worldwide and across the US.

Renie Anderson, Chief Revenue Officer and Executive Vice President of NFL Partnerships, said, “Since 2013, Microsoft has helped transform the NFL through technology around our game. Microsoft Surface has quickly become an authentic tool to the game of football and is vital during all NFL games for coaches, players, and NFL officials. And now by working together to integrate Microsoft Teams across the League, together we aim to improve on communications and collaboration in a modern way.”

Microsoft Teams has ramped up to 20 million daily users after launching a mere three years ago as a solution aimed to connect people in a more seamless fashion as a single team. The NFL will use it as a unifying component for calls, web chats, virtual meetings and doc collaborations. This single hub works securely over Windows, Mac, iOS and the Android platforms creating a teamwork like work flow designed to keep things more ‘uniform and consistent’ as I used to say about the GI 2000.

NFL Team Use Cases

Mehdi says the combination of Surface and Microsoft Teams will enable high-fidelity microphones and cameras on Surface devices to make Microsoft Teams video calls more immersive. I am pretty sure Mehdi believes this is a big deal but I actually do not. The word ‘immersive’ like the word ‘egregious’ are both overused and too broad to get excited about in the short-term.

Using a touchscreen as a digital white board in Microsoft Teams is an action we could nearly do with the GI2000 back in 1997. Twenty-three years later or about 100 tech years, adding a touchscreen and stylist to diagram plays wherever the staff may be just doesn’t have the technological sizzle the press release attempts to convey. Cool and useful it is but I expect so much more after more than two decades.

The Miami Dolphins championed Microsoft Teams for their Super Bowl LIV planning at Hard Rock Stadium. Kim Rometo, the Dolphins Vice President and Chief Information Officer said, “In Microsoft Teams we can easily collaborate on files, manage shared calendars, host meetings, and utilize existing integrations. Teams made cooperation with the NFL possible throughout the regular season and with Super Bowl planning.”

The New York Football Jets used it for business operation needs as well as to streamline the NFL Draft processes. I am impressed to learn that the Super Bowl Champions, Kansas City Chiefs, required their scouting staff to use Microsoft Teams to optimize their college football scouting department efforts.

NFL Future is Now

Look for continuously evolving innovations such as Microsoft Surface Sideline Viewing System and Microsoft Surface Instant Replay to keep pace with the ever changing game. Like I mentioned before, this system was set up to fail by the NFL competition committee for pass interference reviews and challenges even though both technologies were actually spot on and not to blame.

The NFL is nothing without their players something the owners need to remember during the ongoing CBA negotiations. The same can be said about needing their partners too whether that be with broadcasting, gambling or biometric data. This partnership will target business and consumer applications that integrate with Surface.

Besides creating the playbook and conducting film review, the various Surface devices will also maximize sponsorship activities through in-stadium activations on game day. The front office of the league and each team can look forward to unique business solutions as this partnership further matures though advanced hardware and software.

Empowering the NFL with Microsoft Surface and Microsoft Teams

Sports Techie, better communication is at the heart of this ongoing football deal. Microsoft is an important part of the locker room and the training facility, they’re inside each stadium, team headquarters and in the cloud during the draft. They are also changing the way NFL business operates and engages with the all important fan.

Surface and Microsoft Team are setting the new sports tech standard across all professional sports.

See you later sportstechie in Seattle, Atlanta and around the world!

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