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Microsoft scores $400M deal with NFL, coaches to use Surface tablets during games

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Microsoft scored a major touchdown with the National Football League at its Xbox Reveal event yesterday. Not only is it partnering with the league to offer interactive NFL games coverage to Xbox users, the company will also be providing coaches and officials with Surface tablets for use on the field, according to its news release.

Currently, coaches and players rely on paper playbooks, laminated paper signs, and Polaroid photos during a game to give players feedback on a play as well as to discuss tactics. That’s because the league has as an explicit rule that bans any device or “any type of computer” that can play or record video from pre-game preparations or on the field during the actual game. Coaches can’t even use binoculars to help them see farther down the field but are allowed to snap photos with cameras. While these rules seem heavy-handed and out-of-place with current technology, the league also wants the game to be decided by the players and not by techno-wizardry.

It seems the league is slowly softening its stance on keeping modern technology out of the game with more and more teams, like the Baltimore Ravens, turning iPads into electronic playbooks. As of 2011, iPads can only be used during practice and must be turned off before players can event step onto the field on game day, according to the New York Times.

With this deal with Microsoft, reportedly worth $400 million and good for five years according to Bloomberg Businessweek, the Surface will be known as the “Official Tablet of the NFL,” while the company will be branded the “Official Sideline Technology Sponsor of the NFL.” In exchange, players will be using the Surface tablet during games to review “in-game photos from different camera angles,” and coaches will be able to call plays on the device rather than on pieces of paper. Teams who rely on iPads can still bring the iOS device onto the field, but must cover up the Apple logo when the cameras are on during games.

Although Microsoft didn’t specify the what type of Surface it will be supplying the NFL, we hope coaches will be getting the Surface Pro, as it includes a digitizer where they can make digital signs for players and annotate the playbook on the fly.

Don’t be surprised when you see NFL players and officials poking at their Surface tablets during games next season.

 [Updated on May 23 at 7:40PM: Added a link to Microsoft’s announcement and clarified how NFL coaches and officials will be using the Surface tablet during games.]