Sports

Celebrating the return of the NFL

In a year like no other, the NFL is back for its 2020 season. Find out how coaches, teams, and players are using technology to collaborate, connect, and keep the spirit of the game alive.

The NFL is back. While stadiums might be empty or at reduced capacity, the teams’ energy and commitment to the game is as strong as ever.

That’s why the NFL is turning to a technology suite from longtime partner Microsoft to help players connect with each other and their fans, who are eager to get closer to the game. In particular, Microsoft Surface and Microsoft Teams have become an integral part of gameday, but also keeping longtime team traditions alive.

For the New Orleans Saints, the team is family. And rookie traditions are an important part of kicking off each season together. Find out how seasoned vets Alvin Kamara (RB) and Cameron Jordan (DE) are welcoming NFL newcomers Adam Trautman (TE), Cesar Ruiz (C), and Tony Jones Jr. (RB) to the team with their favorite rookie rights of passage.

Virtual NFL fan experiences

Of course, the NFL is working to keep fan traditions alive, too. Crowd energy is a vital part of any game, electrifying players and offering that famed hometown advantage. With fans mostly watching from home, the NFL turned to Microsoft to help support rich virtual experiences that bring fans closer to the action when they can’t be there in person.

This season, using Microsoft Teams, key games feature a virtual feed called a Fan Mosaic that’s displayed in stadiums on LED screens, as well as during broadcasts. For each of these games, the home team invites lucky fans to a virtual VIP experience where they can watch the game together via Teams and be featured in the Fan Mosaic as part of the virtual crowd.

The NFL has also debuted the Bud Light Showtime Cam in stadiums at select games. After a player scores a touchdown, the Fan Mosaic can appear on an LED screen in the end zone, allowing them to connect with their fans and celebrate the moment.

“Microsoft technology has been an integral part of NFL operations for several years,” says Michelle McKenna, CIO, NFL.  ”And with the new challenges ahead of us this season, Microsoft will be instrumental in helping us innovate the best possible experiences for our players, coaches, officials, and fans, through activation like the Fan Mosaic and the Bud Light Showtime cam.”

Fox NFL Cleatus background for Microsoft Teams

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An unprecedented year

This season, NFL Football Operations is using Microsoft Teams to virtually manage operations for all games every week, including data reporting and adherence to League and gameday protocols.

The NFL is becoming increasingly skilled at using technology to manage even the most high-profile aspects of its operations. In April 2020, the first-ever virtual NFL Draft was a significant cultural moment,—with over 55 million fans tuning in—offering an opportunity to showcase how technology can help sports navigate a rapidly changing world.

With the success we had with Teams, and the comfort level that people have developed using the platform, it will be easier to try and integrate Teams with several of our scouting systems.

Paul Nelson, Director of Football Information Systems, Vikings

For the 2020 NFL Draft, over the course of three days, all NFL Clubs submitted the 255 draft picks using Microsoft Teams and in many cases using Microsoft Surface devices. This allowed them to stay connected to the event during the broadcast, across social channels, and throughout their organization.

It was a complex problem of managing data, live communication, and high fan expectations. But the technology rose to the occasion, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hinted that learnings from the 2020 Draft could be utilized in the future.

Surface on the sidelines

Before tapping Teams, the NFL had a long history with the Surface. In 2014, Microsoft and the NFL introduced the Surface Sideline Viewing System to supplement the use of paper printouts. Microsoft produced ruggedized Surface Pro devices to withstand all elements of the NFL sideline, including rain, snow, heat, and even the occasional drop or hit. With more than 2,000 Surface devices and 170 servers deployed across 30 global stadiums, Microsoft technology will help power 269 NFL games worldwide this year.

NFL player holds a Microsoft Surface device on the sidelines of a game.

With the extension of the Microsoft and NFL partnership, there’s an unprecedented opportunity for coaches, players, game officials, and fans to connect in new and inspiring ways. Whether on or off the field, the NFL’s next chapter may be its most exciting yet—and a chance to create new traditions, too.