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Microsoft Upgrades Tech Partnership with NFL

This season, the NFL will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl. The game has certainly evolved since Super Bowl I, but the league has been slow to adapt to new sideline and on-field technology.

Microsoft, the official technology partner of the NFL, has been working to change that. And administrators from the tech company see this season’s celebration of five decades of NFL tradition as a perfect time to bring the league more into the 21st century.

“We want to celebrate the NFL’s history, but Microsoft also wants to look forward to the next 50 years,” said Jeff Tran, director of sports alliances at Microsoft.

Microsoft is entering its third year of an exclusive relationship with the NFL. The partnership has brought new advancements on the field, as well as innovative ways to watch games at home.

21st Century Sideline

One of the biggest impacts of the NFL-Microsoft deal has been the introduction of tablets to the sidelines. 

Until only a few years ago, plays and schemes were scouted by print. Teams would take photos of formations and publish them in binders. Coaches would then run through plays and series with players when they weren’t on the field.

In 2013, Microsoft started a shift. Through a pilot program, a handful of teams experimented with taking that information digital and using tablets rather than binders to collect, sort, and share play breakdowns. Last season, the program was implemented across the league. Microsoft outfitted each team with a suite of Surface Pros to compile plays and make sideline decisions.

The company hopes to take the technology to the next level in 2015. While the tablets were generally reserved for team personnel last season, the NFL will experiment with replacing replay booths with Surfaces during referee reviews.

“You hear that football is a game of inches, but really it’s a game of seconds,” Tran said. “With this technology, you save seconds, which quickly turns into minutes. That’s the difference between someone losing interest.”

In addition to stills, the NFL will also begin adding video elements to their on-field scouting. The technology was tested originally in the Pro Bowl last season and got positive reviews. “We want to make everyone better at what they do, and this technology allows for them to do that,” Tran said. 

Ultimate In-Home Experience

But you don’t have to be a player or coach to feel the impact of the NFL’s technology partnership.

By using the NFL app on Xbox One and Windows 10 devices, Microsoft wants to bring an exclusive experience to consumers. The NFL app has existed for a while, but Microsoft is introducing new functionality to the soon-to-be released update.

Perhaps the coolest new feature is Microsoft’s new NextGen stats package. Every NFL player has sensors placed in their equipment by Microsoft, which tracks information that includes speed, position and distance.

After a highlight play, fans can go to through the app and see the exact position of each player on the field. A setting change will “Maddenize” the view and shows each player as a series of dots. When players move, the app maps their progress and effectively shows a chart of the play.

By introducing new levels of NextGen statistics, Tran also thinks thinks parents could use the information as a learning tool. Integration with fantasy football adds another level for kids to learn strategy and basic math skills.

“All these numbers focus on math and science,” Tran said. “It would be easy for parents to make these numbers and this information educational for kids so they can learn through sports.”

But there is a catch: You need an Xbox One. When you connect your TV through the gaming console, a new notification system for games opens. You can personalize settings to be alerted whenever something happens during certain games or with certain teams.

“We want NFL fans to feel like they have to own an Xbox to get the best NFL experience,” said Todd Stevens, executive producer at Microsoft.

Photos: Elise Amendola/AP (Patriots), Microsoft (screenshots)

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