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Microsoft and the NFL yesterday unveiled a major partnership, pegged by sources at about $400M over five years. The pact, expanding on a prior relationship between the league and Microsoft, includes sideline rights allowing coaches to use Surface tablets for communications, play calling and photo viewing, a series of category designations including official sideline technology sponsor of the NFL, integration between live NFL games and consumers' fantasy football teams, data processing on player injuries, and branding on instant-replay booths. Notably, the deal does not include the league's now-vacant and high-profile headset category. The NFL tie-up came as Microsoft unveiled Xbox One, its next-generation gaming console. Featuring voice-controlled, immediate switching between live TV, gaming, and online content; advanced personalization, recommendation, gesturing and social features; and other elements, the new console is designed to tie together various forms of home entertainment in ways far beyond prior versions of the Xbox. Microsoft Senior VP/Interactive Entertainment Business Yusuf Mehdi said, "This is the beginning of truly intelligent television." Xbox One is slated for retail availability later this year, certainly in time for the holiday shopping season, but does not yet have a firm release date or projected price (Fisher & Kaplan, Staff Writers). CABLEFAX DAILY reports the NFL's presence on Xbox One will be "built around apps like Xbox Smartglass, with a new fantasy football solution and a personalized NFL portal" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 5/22).TECH SAVVY: NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp said, "When you think about the sidelines, what is most important for us is how you make the game of football better, make what the coaches and players do better, using technology but preserving the competition." He added, "You can start with how we communicate with each other. ... We'll look at how do you do the still photos better, get more into real time? Is there a more efficient way to give replay officials a way of doing reviews better through technology?" The AP's Barry Wilner noted such technology is "expected to keep fans not one step but several strides ahead of what's being presented live on TV now." Microsoft branding "on the hoods of the referee's on-field instant replay station and other sideline areas will begin this season." Rolapp: "Anything we do will go through the proper approval processes. Whatever we do, it's of paramount importance it enhances the competition. We have some gospel points we will not break." Wilner notes a five-year deal also "gives the league some flexibility as technological advances make even more improvements possible." SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said, "The tablets are a huge deal. For a league that prides itself about being at the forefront of technology, having Peyton Manning look at Polaroids isn't exactly cutting edge. Having him look at a tablet is" (AP, 5/21). ESPN.com's Mike Sando wrote the deal "looks like a game-changer on the field as well." Tablets "should allow teams to more reliably consider the percentages in light of team tendencies, opponent tendencies, historical precedent or whatever information a team could find valuable." This "should be especially true as younger coaches replace older ones" (ESPN.com, 5/21).
GAME TIME: EA Sports also participated in the Xbox One launch as part of a new strategic partnership between the publisher and Microsoft, and said it will develop upcoming versions of "FIFA," "Madden NFL," "NBA Live," and "UFC" for the Xbox One over the next year, including exclusive content in the Ultimate Team mode of "FIFA 14." To enable the titles on the new platform, EA Sports also announced a new gaming engine, EA Sports Ignite. EA Sports Exec VP Andrew Wilson said, "Ignite was designed specifically to blur the line between real and virtual. Sports are just as much about your head as they are about your feet or hands. We built new technology that allows players to make decisions with four times more calculations per second" (Fisher & Kaplan). USA TODAY's Mike Snider reports athletes will be "drawn in real time with 10 times as many animations, and four times the artificial intelligence." More "frequent, faster influx of sports data -- daily performance and injury updates -- will make athletes in the games more resemble their real-world models" (USA TODAY, 5/22).
Former Rutgers QB Ryan Hart "got a favorable call" against EA Sports yesterday, with a federal appeals court "reversing the dismissal of his lawsuit claiming his image in the popular 'NCAA Football' video game was used without his permission," according to Ted Sherman of the Newark STAR-LEDGER. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals "found that while EA’s video games may be protected under the First Amendment as a work of free expression, the use of the Rutgers star did little more than depict his real-life exploits on the field." Judge Joseph Greenaway said, "The digital Ryan Hart does what the actual Ryan Hart did while at Rutgers: He plays college football, in digital recreations of college football stadiums, filled with all the trappings of a college football game." Hart's attorneys said that EA "basically stole the identities of players like Hart for profit, without the permission or compensation of athletes" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 5/22). The court ruled that Hart "can try to collect some of the profits EA made" from the '04-06 editions of "NCAA Football." The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Joe Palazzolo notes the lawsuit is "unlikely to see trial in the foreseeable future." EA Corporate Communications Senior Dir John Reseburg said that the company "plans to appeal." It could "ask the Third Circuit to rehear the case or petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review it." The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is "considering a similar lawsuit" filed by former Arizona State QB Sam Keller and other former players. If that panel "rules in favor of EA, the split could entice the Supreme Court to review the issue" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/22).
Steelers WR Plaxico Burress has created a new men's luxury hosiery line that will "retail for $24 or more a pair, and will be released to retail next month," according to Tony Gervino of the N.Y. TIMES. Burress helped promote the line with the "usual news media rounds and started a Twitter account, @PlaxicoSocks." He said, "I’ve been planning my sock line from behind the scenes for a couple of years; nobody even knew I was doing it." Burress "refused to speculate on a post-NFL career in fashion." But he said that he was "confident" he "could provide a deep threat for Pittsburgh while still expanding his hosiery business." Burress: "The ultimate goal is to get into bow ties, cuff links and belts. Definitely belts. Come on, who doesn’t need a great belt?" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/22).
Former Temple Univ. footwear and apparel sponsor And1 is returning to the Philadelphia campus as title sponsor for a grass-roots basketball tourney Aug. 29-Sept. 1. The 12-team winner-take-all event will offer a $100,000 cash prize to the winner. IMG is handling event management and sales for the tournament, which is open to pros and amateurs. Members of the winning team are expected to become the new faces of And1, in the tradition of the old And1 Mixtape Tour. And1 started in suburban Philadelphia in '93 and has been sold over three times since '05. The brand is now owned by N.Y.-based High Life Apparel, a former And1 licensee.