Earl Thomas admits that he isn’t good with technology. But when we met up with the Seahawks star earlier this month, the All-Pro safety said he does love one piece of sports-related technology.
“When you talk about technology and sports, I love to watch myself on film,” he said. “I love to watch every movement. It’s the biggest thing that helps me get better.”
Soon Thomas will be able to watch videos on the sidelines during games, seconds after a play happens.
NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle told GeekWire today that she expects video streaming to be available to players and coaches next season (2016-17).
For the past four weeks of preseason action, the NFL has been testing video streaming to the devices during games, allowing players and coaches to watch replays of what just happened on the field via Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablets.
McKenna-Doyle said there’s been a positive response to the new technology.
“The coaches that have had the opportunity to use it love it,” she said. “We have been testing it in the preseason in the stadiums of members of our competition committee. When one of those teams went on the road to a stadium without it, we had some explaining to do as to why they couldn’t have it — so I think it is going to be widely received and rolled out in full next season, pending final review by our competition committee.”
The NFL tested video streaming to the tablets during last year’s Pro Bowl, and it also was met with generally positive feedback.
Thanks to Microsoft’s $400 million, five-year contract it inked with the NFL in 2013, players and coaches have access to the custom-built Surface tablets with an application that lets them be more efficient in how they review past plays. The idea is to replace the traditional paper black-and-white images of plays to analyze previous possessions, and instead use the waterproof tablets that allow for annotations on each photo with the Surface Pen.
The league first introduced Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tablets on the sidelines last season, and this year Microsoft is upgrading the devices to a ruggedized, weatherproof version of its Surface Pro 3 tablet, which offers a bigger and thinner screen, lighter weight, clearer images, and a pen that can be used in four different colors.
McKenna-Doyle also answered a few other tech-related questions for GeekWire, just as the 2015-16 NFL season kicks off on Thursday.
GeekWire: What are you most looking forward to from a technology perspective for this season?
NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle: “Everything we do starts with the game on the field and leveraging technology to help improve that experience for players and coaches. This preseason we have been experimenting with video on Surface tablets, which has been exciting to see come to life just a year after introducing tablets with still photos on the sidelines during regular season games, which teams will continue to use this year.
Player health and safety continues to be the top priority at the league and we continue to work with our medical experts to use technology to help make the game safer. Starting this season. for the first time, the certified athletic trainer positioned in a stadium box will be authorized to stop the game and call a medical timeout to provide a player with immediate attention – this will be accomplished by the athletic trainer being able to call down to the referee through a wireless communications system on a moment’s notice.
I am also looking forward to Super Bowl 50 in the heart of the Silicon Valley and all the technology-enabled fan experiences our fans will have.”
GeekWire: On that note, what is the NFL prioritizing as far as technology investments?
McKenna-Doyle: “We continue to focus on our sideline of the future with enhancements to our tablets on the sidelines, a new instant replay system which connects directly to our centralized officiating command center in New York, and evolution of the next generation of coach-to-coach and coach-to-player communication systems.”
GeekWire: What about in-stadium connectivity? How much has it changed in the past few years, and what can fans expect going forward? How important is this to the NFL?
McKenna-Doyle: “There is no better place to watch a game than live in a stadium surrounded by tens of thousands of screaming fans. The in-stadium experience continues to be a big focus for us and connectivity is a key component to ensuring a positive experience. Most of our clubs have implemented Wi-Fi in the bowl areas and have upgraded their mobile carrier networks. We continue to work with them and partners to improve connectivity. We have to focus on this every season as each season brings greater appetite for connectivity.”
GeekWire: How do you think the partnership with Microsoft has evolved since 2013? What are you most excited about there?
McKenna-Doyle: “Microsoft continues to be a great teammate in helping improve the game for the teams and for the fans. The collaboration has allowed us to bring innovative technology onto the sidelines in secure and productive ways. When the idea of putting tablets on the sidelines first surfaced, we had many hurdles to clear — connectivity, environmental factors, usability and coach acceptance. With Microsoft’s help, we cleared all of those, and now the appetite for more continues to grow.”
GeekWire: Can fans expect another in-stadium app like the one the NFL rolled out last year during the Super Bowl?
McKenna-Doyle: “The San Francisco Bay Area is not only a great football region but is the technology capital of the country. Many of our technology partners have headquarters in that corner of the country, and we are excited to continue to work with them to make Super Bowl 50 the most connected Super Bowl yet. If you have been to Levi’s Stadium, you know they have a very robust in stadium app and we plan on integrating NFL Mobile with that app for a seamless, connected and awesome experience for our fans.”