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).