Instead of players scanning those black-and-white printouts on the sideline this year, you’ll see guys pull off their helmets and grab a tablet computer. No, not an iPad. The NFL is going high tech with the Microsoft Surface for its new Sideline Viewing System. The NFL-Microsoft partnership is reportedly worth $400 million. It’s meant to help advance the flow of information–and it’s also a huge product placement advertising campaign. Tough guys use tablets. Smart tough guys, that is. Images of famous football players in the heat of battle looking down at the Microsoft Surface will be broadcast millions of times this season to the largest steady audience in the sports/entertainment business.
Those old printed photos revealed a bird’s eye view of an opposing team’s player formations. Organized with lightning speed and placed in three-ring binders for the players to look at, the photos promised a clue–if you could find it–to the opponents’ strategy. Before this year using any technology more sophisticated than the printouts was illegal in the NFL. Now tablets will deliver much more information and deliver it faster. As a bonus Microsoft will collect information that will help it improve its Xbox NFL offerings, like fantasy football data. The system debuted at this weekend’s Hall of Fame game between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants. Giants won 17-13. No information was available about how big a role the Surface played in the Giants victory.