The NFL has entered an agreement with Microsoft to allow the use of Surface Pro 2 tablets on team sidelines this season. Currently the NFL bans any computer device from gracing a team’s sidelines during game time. Up until now pictures from the booth were taken of plays, printed out, stuffed into binders and then run down to the sidelines. Think 1980.
But why the Surface Pro 2 and not the newer Surface Pro 3? That’s the question. Perhaps the agreement was in place before the Surface Pro 3 was announced? Maybe the modifications wouldn’t be ready in time if they were applied to the Surface Pro 3?
Upon digging deeper it appears the NFL’s version of the Surface Pro 2 is highly modified.
What we do know is that the NFL version of the Surface Pro 2 can only run one app — the Sideline Viewing System (SVS) App. This app allows photos in the booth to be transmitted to the team’s sideline Surface Pro 2. Teams can pinch and zoom as well as make annotations. However, there is no internet access for web browsing, email, tweeting or other social networking. The tablet also has been given a wider bevel to help withstand the often rugged environment of an NFL sideline.
While we know Microsoft will push the idea that their flagship tablet is being used on the sidelines by the highly esteemed NFL, the reality is that this version is a highly modified, single-use product that no one else would ever spend a dollar buying. But other industries do this type of advertising all the time. Why do you think it is important to communicate that Jeff Gordon drives a Chevy? Is Jeff Gordon’s Chevy a car you or I could buy? No, but the idea is if Jeff Gordon drives a Chevy (highly modified as it is), and if we want a great, high performance car, then we should too.
Whether this marketing tactic gimmick will work (it certainly isn't a marketing strategy unless Microsoft plans on doing this for the entire sports industry) is anyone’s guess. At least Microsoft aimed big. Now the question is whether the app and hardware work flawlessly as advertised. Count on a gambling fan or two with a portable jammer, blocking the signals from booth to sideline and panic ensuing, or exploiting all of Microsoft's security flaws... or a team not having Service Pack 14 installed and therefore photos get transmitted to the wrong team. These are somewhat silly scenarios but the point is if the NFL’s modified Surface Pro 2 doesn’t doesn’t work out of the box, the massively bad PR towards Microsoft could quickly undo any momentum they were hoping to achieve, and the Microsoft sideline havoc has already begun.
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