Update: Here’s a statement from Microsoft: “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.”
Update 2: The NFL issued a statement on Monday in regard to the tech problems — see it here.
Now, we might have Tabletgate.
During the second quarter of today’s AFC Championship, an apparent technology malfunction caused New England’s Microsoft Surface tablets to stop working on the sidelines.
Coaches and players use the tablets to review past plays. CBS reported on-air to millions of people watching the game that the Patriots coaches had “no access” to the devices during Denver’s 3-play, 16-yard touchdown drive early in the second quarter. CBS said that there was a lot of “frustration” among the Patriots coaches and noted that Denver’s tablets had no issues.
CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson said the Patriots would use “hard wires” for the remainder of the game. She added that the NFL does not require a team to shut the tablets down if its opponent is having problems during the game.
At the 5:05 mark in the second quarter, CBS reported — its third sideline report of the game related to this problem — that New England’s tablets were working again.
It’s unclear if the problem was related to the Surface itself or something else, like an in-stadium connectivity issue. We’ve reached out to the NFL and Microsoft for more details and will update this post when we hear back. Update: Microsoft said it was a network-related problem — see the company’s full statement above.
Regardless of the root of the problem, this isn’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
When the folks at Apple saw the Microsoft tablets weren't working pic.twitter.com/6pCQoRCMUb
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) 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
Ugh- worst branding ever for Microsoft as CBS reports that Surface tablets are not working on New England sideline. #PlayoffScreenOfDeath
— Andy Boyer (@aboyer) January 24, 2016
— Monte the Color Man (@Monte_Colorman) January 24, 2016
Funny how they called them iPads when they worked but specifically referred to them as "Microsoft Surface Tablets" when they broke.
— Carter Rabasa (@crtr0) January 24, 2016
Remember when $MSFT bitched that everyone was referring to the Surfaces on NFL sidelines as iPads? Bet they wish that was still happening :)
— J-Strizzle (@jstrauss) January 24, 2016
Oh oh Patriots have problems with their Microsoft Surface tablets. You know the conspiracy theories will begin soon.
— Rahul Sood (@rahulsood) January 24, 2016
Patriots preparing to hold halftime meeting in a Denver Apple Store…
— M.G. Siegler (@mgsiegler) 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
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.
The NFL introduced players and coaches to the Surface Pro 2 tablet last year, and this season 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.
While Microsoft’s PR team is probably not too thrilled today, the fact that the Patriots coaches were so frustrated shows how much the teams now rely on Microsoft technology during the game. The three sideline reports within 15 minutes from CBS about this issue also points to its importance.
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 the NFL said the problem wasn’t with the Surface tablets themselves.