The NFL wants to make it clear that Microsoft Surface tablets are not to blame for a technology malfunction during Sunday’s AFC Championship game.
As GeekWire reported yesterday, the New England Patriots became “frustrated” during the second quarter of their 20-18 loss to Denver after the Surface tablets used by coaches and players to review past plays on the sidelines stopped working for a brief period.
Microsoft issued a statement during the game, noting that “our team on the field has confirmed the issue was not related to the tablets themselves but rather an issue with the network. We worked with our partners who manage the network to ensure the issue was resolved quickly.”
On Monday afternoon, the NFL issued a separate statement, reiterating that it was a problem related to a “network cable malfunction” — not the Surface tablet itself, or Microsoft’s own software. Here’s the statement from NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy:
“Near the end of the 1st quarter, we experienced an infrastructure issue on the Patriots sideline that impacted still photos for the coaching tablets. The issue was identified as a network cable malfunction and was resolved during the 2nd quarter. The issue was not caused by the tablets or the software that runs on the tablets. We have experienced no issues with the tablets this season. Any issues were network related.”
Even though the problem was not directly caused by a Surface-related issue, CBS cut to three separate on-air sideline interviews during the game — which had 53.3 million viewers tuning in — to talk about the problem, naming “Microsoft Surface” multiple times and noting “frustration” among the Patriots coaches. Denver, meanwhile, had no issues with their tablets.
Regardless of the root of the problem, it wasn’t the best publicity for Microsoft, which ran several TV ads spotlighting the Surface tablet during the game. Here are some tweets, the first from New York Giants lineman Geoff Schwartz:
Those tablets always malfunction.
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) January 24, 2016
That was a very poorly timed commercial for the Microsoft Surface tablet. “Do Great Things?” How about working on the sidelines in AFC Chmp?
— Michael McCarthy (@MMcCarthyREV) January 24, 2016
"They're having some problems with their Microsoft Surface tablets." That's the one time you DON'T mention the brand.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) January 24, 2016
Thanks to Microsoft’s $400 million, five-year contract it inked with the NFL in 2013, players and coaches have had access to the custom-built Surface tablets for the past two seasons with an application that lets them be more efficient in how they review past plays. The idea is to replace the traditional printed 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.
Microsoft ran into separate NFL Surface-related marketing issues earlier this season. Back in September during the season opener, Al Michaels mistakenly called the Surface an “iPad” on national television. This seems to be a recurring problem for Microsoft — last season, commentators referred to the Surface as an “iPad-like tool.” It happened on more than one occasion last season, with Trent Dilfer calling the tablet an iPad during a Monday Night game, too.
Then there was a server power issue during last month’s Monday Night Football game between Dallas and Washington — but, like this weekend’s problems, the NFL said the malfunction wasn’t caused by the Surface tablets themselves.