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Volume 21 No. 2
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Microsoft-NFL relationship ‘will evolve over time’

The NFL’s new five-year, $400 million technology and sponsorship deal with Microsoft, announced last week as part of the introduction of the forthcoming Xbox One gaming and home entertainment console, is the most extensive in league history in terms of its breadth and depth of execution.

News of the NFL deal came with the unveiling of the Xbox One console last week.
Several prior NFL deals exceed the Microsoft pact in raw dollars, including pacts with Anheuser-Busch, Verizon and Pepsi. But none before has blended on-field technology, media-related assets, player health and safety, and traditional branding in the way this latest deal does. While the Verizon deal, signed three years ago, opened a new realm for the NFL blending sponsorship and media assets, the Microsoft alignment takes that concept to a far greater degree by also including technology and on-field operations.

“Every facet of our business and many of our business partners were involved,” said John Brody, NFL senior vice president of sponsorship and media sales. “There’s a lot more work to do. You won’t see everything from our opening kickoff. This relationship will evolve over time.”

The deal will include tablets on the sidelines for the first time, likely in time for the 2014 season, replacing the Polaroid instant photos used for years; interactive TV elements such as fantasy football integration, Skype video calls and game highlights; branding for Microsoft Surface tablets on instant replay booths; and data analysis on player injuries, among many other elements. The deal, notably, does not include the league’s vacant and lucrative headset category.

But the agreement is so broad and open-ended in terms of its potential touch points that executives for both the NFL and Microsoft could not itemize every element of it, or outline specific timetables for their public introduction.

“Using the combined assets we have to make the stadium experience great, to make the in-home experience great, that’s what our opportunity is,” Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, said last week during the Xbox One reveal event in Redmond, Wash.

The NFL deal also extends a recent run of sports-related dealmaking for Microsoft that includes a deal with Major League Soccer focused on the Windows 8 brand, and an expanded relationship with EA Sports in which the game publisher will produce four of its key titles for Xbox One and provide exclusive content from its “FIFA” soccer series.

NFL teams will still be allowed to use rival technology brands on the sidelines, such as coaches and doctors using Apple iPads. But the logos for Apple or any Microsoft rival will be covered. Lenovo, another NFL sponsor, also produces convertible tablet computers, creating a potential overlap with Microsoft. But Brody said he did not see a category conflict.

“We think there’s enough eyeballs and opportunity for our partners to activate,” he said. “We have a lot of partners in the technology space, because that’s where our fans are. Sports follows life that way.”