Microsoft made a significant investment in its deal with the National Football League, paying $400 million for the opportunity to put Surface 2-in-1 devices on the sidelines at every American football game. The idea was to showcase how a Surface in tablet mode could be a powerful tool for coaches and players in navigating their way through the grueling contests.
However, as with all such product placements, things can backfire, and sometimes Surface gets something of a black eye when things go wrong. Cantankerous New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is certainly not a Surface fan, as he once again went off on the problems with using such technology on the sidelines, according to New England Sports Network.
The harsh words came during Belichick’s Tuesday morning conference call, during which he spent well over five minutes complaining about what he characterizes as technology that is simply “too undependable.” If you read his entire rant, which NESN captured and posted on Twitter, then you’ll notice that it’s not really just the Surface tablets that draw his ire — it’s everything from the network to the Surface to various connectivity components.
For now, it looks like Belichick is going to go old school in response. As he put it toward the end of his conference call, “… for me, personally, it’s a personal decision, I’m done with the tablets. I’ll use the paper pictures from here on, because I just have given it my best shot. I’ve tried to work through the process. But it just doesn’t work for me, and that’s because there’s no consistency to it.”
Of course, the most visible component in the system is Microsoft’s Surface, and so that’s what gets the most heat. When you see a player or coach pounding that distinctive blue slab, then you know it’s a Microsoft device that’s taking the brunt of someone’s frustration. In fact, Microsoft has even had to sit idly by as NFL commentators refer to the Surface devices as iPads, which does nothing to help a marketing manager sleep at night.
Microsoft has since responded to Belichick, as NBC Sports indicates, saying, “We respect Coach Belichick’s decision, but stand behind the reliability of Surface. We continue to receive positive feedback on having Surface devices on the sidelines from coaches, players, and team personnel across the league. In the instances where sideline issues are reported in NFL games, we work closely with the NFL to quickly address and resolve.”
The NFL itself has also jumped to Microsoft’s defense, “Microsoft is an integral, strategic partner of the NFL, and implementing its technology on our sidelines has increased the efficiency and speed of collaboration between coaches and players to an all-time high. Within our complex environment, many factors can affect the performance of a particular technology either related to or outside of our partner’s solutions. We continue to work with all of our partners to ensure the best systems are in place to most effectively assist the clubs in the execution of their game plan.”
Belichick is just one NFL coach, and it’s less likely that we’ll hear from coaches and others who think the technology is working just fine. Nevertheless, Microsoft executives have to be wondering how many more coaching rants they’ll have to endure before the current contract comes to an end in 2018. Or, perhaps, company and league execs are just looking forward to Belichick’s retirement.
Updated on 10-19-2016 by Mark Coppock: Added Microsoft and NFL statements.