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Referees will now use a Surface tablet to review replays. Photo via Microsoft.

As Microsoft enters the final year of its reported $400 million deal with the NFL, the Surface tablet will be more visible on the sidelines than ever.

Since the 2013-14 season, players and coaches have used the Surface tablet to review past plays on the sideline during games.

As GeekWire reported earlier this month, NFL referees this season will now use the tablet to review replays for the 2017-18 season, replacing the “under-the-hood” monitor. We saw the integration during the preseason opener on Aug. 3 and it was used again on Wednesday during the Texans vs. Panthers game.

Photo via Microsoft.

There will be two Surface Pro 4 tablets at each 20-yard line for the referees to use. The tablets are hard-wired to the video feeds and there’s an assistant who holds up the tablet for the referee, who will communicate with league officials via headset while they watch replays. Final decisions will be made by the league officials, with consultation from the referee.

The NFL is using the tablets to speed up the replay review process.

Photo via Microsoft.

In a blog post published today, Microsoft also revealed that the Surface will be used by NFL team medical staff “while making real-time decisions about player safety and health on the sidelines.”

“Medical staffs will have access to the NFL’s Game Management System, an app that displays key moments in every game and allows for data collection and sharing across games,” wrote Robert Matthews, a general manager for Microsoft.

A Microsoft spokesperson was unable to provide more details about the Game Management System app or what type of data it provides. It’s unclear if the Surface and app will be used to help assess concussion-related injuries during games.

In the blog post, Microsoft noted that some teams are also using the Surface as playbooks or for business operations. Others are using the big Surface Hub collaboration device for film reviews.

“It is clear that NFL teams have embraced Microsoft as a true technology partner,” the company noted.

We’ll see if the NFL decides to ink another deal with Microsoft after this season. Despite a few hiccups — TV commentators repeatedly referring to the Surface as an iPad, for example — Microsoft executives told GeekWire last year that they’re happy with the partnership.

“To have people like Drew Brees or other players say ‘wow, this really changes the way we play the game on the sidelines’ — that is without a doubt a big success,” said Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela.

The general idea for Microsoft with the NFL deal is two-fold: To help leagues and teams improve their business and strategy with Microsoft products and services, and to gain marketing exposure for its technology.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella teaches NFL legend Deion Sanders about a new fantasy football bot last year at Microsoft Ignite in Atlanta, Ga. (GeekWire photo/ Kevin Lisota)

The Surface has surely become a mainstay on the sidelines, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the NFL re-up its deal with Microsoft, particularly with the expanded use to referees and medical staff. Teams have also been testing a video functionality on the tablets, but the NFL’s Competition Committee wants more time to approve the new feature for regular season games.

The NFL deal goes beyond just the Surface, which is also being used for business-related purposes by teams and the league itself. The Xbox One, for example, is the “official game console of the NFL” — football fans have probably seen an Xbox-related NFL advertisement or two.

The deal is one of many sports-related partnerships Microsoft has with leagues and teams across the globe, including the PGA Tour, NASCAR, Real Madrid, La Liga, and others.

“When we look at where we want our products to show up, one of the questions you ask is, what are people’s passion points?” Capossela told GeekWire last year. “A few of them really spike to be much, much bigger than all the rest. Sports is really high on the list.”

In June, Microsoft debuted its “Sports Performance Platform,” a new product that crunches data and helps teams make on-field performance-related decisions.

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