Bengals & Microsoft Bring Real-Time Technology to the Field


There is an old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. In the NFL, a series of pictures can be the difference between a win and a loss.

In the new era of the NFL, long gone are the old school Polaroids and glossy paper printouts of plays. They are replaced with Microsoft Surfaces, which provide players and coaches with images almost immediately after a play occurs.

The Bengals enjoy an enhanced partnership with Microsoft to bring technology to the field so that coaches, analysts and players can access real-time data from the sidelines.

“The Microsoft Surfaces are fantastic because as soon as the play is over and we have new down and distance, those pictures are uploaded onto the devices instantaneously,” said Bengals Video Assistant Brooks Santanello.

During each series on offense, defense or special teams, a team operator will snap a maximum of four pictures per play from two available video cameras set up from the sideline and end zone. Teams typically take between two and four pictures displayed per play. The Bengals and most NFL teams will take two pre-snap shots, the exchange on a run or a pass and then one quickly after that.

The operator will then input the new down and distance, as well as any penalties, and hit the “new play” button on the DVSport StillShot remote. This automatically sends the pictures (sideline and endzone) to all of the team’s Microsoft Surfaces.

Santanello said the Surface’s versatility and simplicity provide the best advantages for players and coaches. Users can zoom in or out of an image, highlight certain areas and draw on the photos, all options that were previously unavailable with the old photo system.

Another feature available once the plays are loaded into the surfaces are the coaches’ ability to draw up plays using the Whiteboard feature and show corrections. The coaches can also favorite specific images and scroll through a series to tailor their message to the team.

Microsoft launched Surface in 2012. The Surface’s versatility with a removable keyboard, pen and context conforming UI, matching the device’s surface and laptop modes, was Microsoft’s differentiator.

When Microsoft partnered with the NFL, it was intended for the company’s technology to revolutionize the game by giving players, coaches, assistants and announcers access to information instantly. For years, the NFL has operated with black and white printed images for play review and/or pen and paper. The Surface introduced ways to understand plays and personnel efficiently and reliably.

“It can be pouring down rain and we would be able to use them like they were in the office,” said Santanello. “If we ever have any issues, we just go to the Purple Hats and they take care of it immediately.”

Purple Hats are information technology operators hired by each team that works with NFL on providing Surface support at games. From fixing issues with a WiFi network to correcting issues with the Surface operation, the NFL and Microsoft make sure team possesses equal access to the tables on the road or at home.

The NFL and Microsoft specifically makes these products for game day and there are no other applications on the Surfaces.

One of the biggest concerns about the Surface is security, but teams are seeing that they’re safer than the paper ones that can be copied. They are made with military grade encryptions and run on their own specific WiFi network.

Teams can still use the printouts if they prefer. However with the devices, coaches can look at plays from any point of the game, and have access to the photos much quicker, which can prove invaluable for making adjustments on the fly.

“The simplicity of the Surface system has made life not only easier for players and coaches, but for the operators as well,” Santanello said. “There are no delays and they are simple to operate. The Surfaces are extremely beneficial to the success of the team.”