Football is getting more high tech than ever this season, as the NFL has partnered with Microsoft to create the Sideline Viewing System. This system will allow players and coaches to digitally study the other team using Microsoft Surface tablets, a tactic which was previously done using printed photographs.
The use of Surfaces on the sidelines marks a shift in NFL regulations: this is the first time it is legal for teams to use electronic devices during a game. They were deployed for the first time at last night's Hall of Fame Game exhibition between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills. NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told SFGate, "We think it's an opportunity to use technology to improve the game on the field."
The league itself will own and operate the tablets, providing each team with 25 total tablets for every game: 13 for the sidelines and 12 for the coaches' box. The NFL was careful to prevent any form of cheating with this new technology. The tablets are locked in a cabinet between games, they cannot view video, and they do not have Internet access. They will also keep the printers for traditional images on the sidelines, just in case.
Printed photos took 20 to 30 seconds to get to coaches, and were generally black and white and low resolution, whereas the Surface will only take about four seconds. Additionally, the new system will allow coaches to arrange up to four photos at once, to draw on the photos, and to bookmark them for future plays.
The $400 million partnership is just one of a few other high tech features being added to the league this season. Referees can now wirelessly speak to one another and they will be able to use the wireless headsets to speak to the NFL officials in New York who control instant replay reviews. Coaches will also given Bose headsets, a major step up.
Finally, both refs and players will being wearing tracking chips for location during some games. The players' radio-frequency identification transmitters will mark everywhere they roam on the field and be able to keep track of their performance. (Think of it as an all-star FitBit.) Made by Zebra Technologies, the transmitters will track location, speed and distance, and use that to churn out real-time data, giving statisticians a whole new level of numbers to crunch.