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An inside look at how NFL coaches shape winning plays with Surface

When you watched the Super Bowl on Sunday, there was something happening on the sidelines and in the coaches’ booths that you may not have known about. NFL coaches and players had a (not so) secret weapon helping them execute the plays that went down in sports history. This is the story of how Microsoft Surface Pro powered gameplay in the most critical moments of the game.

But first, let’s go back in time– just seven years ago – when reviewing a play was not nearly as fast, flexible, or as detailed.  Throughout the course of each game, a team videographer would film the game and clip a still image of each play after it happened. That play image was then sent down to the sideline and coaches’ booth where it was printed, shoved into a plastic sleeve, and clipped into a three-ring binder before being given to the players and coaches. This process could take about a minute for each play. The coaches would then pore over the low-res black and white images to breakdown their team’s performance, as well as gain insights on the opposing team’s strategy, looking for ways to give their team an edge. This process repeated itself on every play, rain or shine…or snow, sleet, or hail.  

That one minute per play to prepare and deliver an image made it near impossible for coaches to make any strategic decisions on the fly.  

Doing more in less time with Surface 

Now, thanks to a partnership between the NFL and Microsoft Surfaceplayers and coaches have access to these same plays in near real-time, allowing in-game adjustments on the fly.  

Surface makes it quick and easy to tag each recorded play with metadata including down and distance, result of the play, and location of the ball on the field. This metadata allows coaches and players to search for and quickly find the information they need. Full color, high resolution tagged images are then delivered by a Windows server located in the coaches’ booth to the team’s Surface devices. The entire process has been digitized and brought nearly into real-time—within seconds after the snap. 

Surface screen showcasing NFL plays

Enhancing collaboration on and off the field

Collaboration features built into Surface Pro are also expanding possibilities, including the ability for users to zoom in and out on images, annotate directly on an image using different colors, and strategize with others in real-time. Each team can load their devices with a set of profiles like head coach and offensive coordinator. A user can then pick up any device on the sideline, go to a profile, and see any saved annotations and plays that have been favorited. This means coaches don’t have to carry around the same device or stay in one spot for Surface Pro to help power the next play. The offensive coordinator on the sideline can annotate on the same play as the coach in the coaches’ booth, in real-time, on different devices.

Surface screen showcasing NFL plays

The instant replay process has also been mobilized through Surface. Now, a technician runs a Surface Pro on to the field for the official to watch an instant replay in conjunction with the NFL headquarters in New York and the instant replay official in a booth high-up in the stadium. In this way, the NFL can speed up crucial game decisions in a collaborative way.

The unique technology partnership between Microsoft and NFL has led to improved business operations for the NFL, the teams, and the fans—and we’re just getting started.

So next season, keep an eye out on the sidelines for Surface Pro. Now you have a little insider knowledge on how technology is helping the NFL make the game even more exciting. Go team!

Want to learn more about how the Surface family of devices can help transform your organization? Watch this webinar