Microsoft happy with its NFL partnership thus far as Surface tablet becomes main ...
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella teaches NFL legend Deion Sanders about a new fantasy football bot last month at Microsoft Ignite in Atlanta, Ga. Photo by Kevin Lisota/GeekWire.

Whether it be on the sidelinesduring an NFL game, on the trackduring a NASCAR race, or on the TV via advertisements , sports fans have likely seen Microsoft’s branding or products appear in one form of another during the past few years.

Microsoft happy with its NFL partnership thus far as Surface tablet becomes main ...
Photo via Microsoft.

That’s because the tech giant is making a big investmentin the sports world, highlighted by the 5-year, $400 million contract it signed withthe NFL in 2013. Microsoft has since inked deals with the PGA Tour, NASCAR, Real Madrid, and many other organizations.

While reporting from Atlanta at Microsoft Ignite last month, GeekWire spoke with two long-time Microsoft execs ― Chief of Marketing Chris Capossela and Yusuf Mehdi , Corporate Vice President, windows and Devices Group ― tolearn more about the company’sphilosophy behind these sports-related partnerships.

The general idea for Microsoft is two-fold: To help leagues and teams improve their business and strategy with Microsoft products and services, and to gain marketingexposure for its technology.

About three years into the NFL deal, Microsoft seems pleased with what’s transpired. As highlighted by a Microsoft News Center story this week, more and more players and coaches are using a customizedSurfacetablet on the sidelines to view images of past plays. This is the third year of Surface integration on the sidelines , and if you watch an NFL game on TV or in person, you’ll notice players and coaches huddled around the tablets during breaks.

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It has all but replaced the black-and-white printouts, though somestill like the traditional format.For example, while reporting about the technology atLevi’s Stadium last month, I noticed a San Francisco 49ers coach who was usinga combination of the paper printouts and the tablet:

Microsoft happy with its NFL partnership thus far as Surface tablet becomes main ...

Still, with each game, it seems like the Surface is becoming the de-facto way to review past plays.

Microsoft happy with its NFL partnership thus far as Surface tablet becomes main ...
Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela speaks at Microsoft Envision in New Orleans earlier this year. Photo by Kevin Lisota / GeekWire.

“To have people like Drew Brees or other players say ‘wow, this really changes the way we play the game on the sidelines’ ― that is without a doubt a big success,” saidCapossela.

But it hasn’t been all gravy for Microsoft, which endured severalNFL Surface-related marketing headachesduring the past two seasons.

In 2014, commentators referred to the Surface as an “iPad-like tool.” One month later, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler called the devices “knockoff iPads.”The following year during the 2015 season opener, Al Michaels mistakenlycalledthe Surface an “iPad” on national television .

Yet despite what appeared to be a PR nightmare for Microsoft, it may have actually been a blessing in disguise.

“I actually think it has been beneficial,” Mehdi said. “The whole controversy of, ‘oh wait, it’s not one of those other devices, it’s a Surface?’ People wondered what the controversy was, and realized there was a Windows device on the sidelines. In a way, it’s almost better than if it had just been smooth.”

You can expect even more usage of the devicesby players and coaches when they can access instant video replays. Teams tested the video functionality this preseason ― they did so during last year’s preseason, too ― but the NFL’sCompetition Committee wants more time to approve the new feature.

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The NFL deal goes beyond just the Surface, which is also being used for business-related purposes by teams and the league itself. The Xbox One , for example, is the “official game console of the NFL” ― football fans have probably seen an Xbox-related NFL advertisement or two.

Looking ahead, Microsoft is also developing fantasy football bot that utilizes artificial intelligence and machine learning ― a vertical wherethe companyis investing heavily . Microsoft unveiled the bot in Atlanta last week when CEO Satya Nadella brought out NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders on stage .

Microsoft happy with its NFL partnership thus far as Surface tablet becomes main ...

There are also some cool potential sports-related applications with Microsoft’s augmented reality headset, HoloLens. Earlier this year, the company showeda video that offered a glimpse of how HoloLens can be used by sports fans while they watch a game on TV.

Mehdi said that in the long-term, Microsoft has “a lot of optimism for what HoloLens can do.” He said the device could potentially let fans seethe perspective of players during a game.

“People yell at their TV and wonder why Russell Wilson threw to a receiver that was covered,” Mehdi explained. “But [with the HoloLens] you could see from his vantage point and understand why he couldn’t see the defender. It brings another level of interactivity.”
Microsoft happy with its NFL partnership thus far as Surface tablet becomes main ...
Via Microsoft.

Caposella called the NFL deal a “great adventure” and said the focus on how the league can use Microsoft’stechnology“has gotten much deeper than when we first started.”

“That was our hope,” he said.


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