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Reason Behind Microsoft Surface Tablet Fail at NFL Game

Tablets on New England Patriots’ sideline suffer a brief but very public lapse in connecting with the network, an awkward moment in which coaches and players can’t use the devices to review plays.


Microsoft’s tablet partnership with the National Football League has not always been smooth.

After Microsoft struck a reported $400 million deal in 2013 with the NFL to have its Surfaces exclusively on team sidelines for reviewing plays, TV commentators kept referring to them as “iPads.” At the time, it was said that networks were constantly reminding their talkers that the Surface looks nothing like an iPad and should therefore be referred to by its actual name.

Microsoft’s tablet seemed to suffer another public black eye Sunday as TV viewers of the AFC championship game Sunday between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots were told that the tablets on the Patriots’ sidelines had failed.

“They’re having some trouble with their Microsoft Surface tablets,” CBS’ sideline reporter Evan Washburn reported during the game. “On the last defensive possession the Patriots’ coaches did not have access to those tablets to show pictures to their players. NFL officials have been working at it. Some of those tablets are back in use, but not all of them. A lot of frustration that they didn’t have them on that last possession.” (Editors’ note: CNET is owned by CBS.)

The outage, which struck during the first half, was brief, and the Patriots’ tablets were soon restored to working order. A Microsoft spokesman blamed the problem on a network connectivity issue rather than a tablet malfunction.

“Our team on the field has confirmed the issue was not related to the tablets themselves but rather an issue with the network,” the company said in a statement Sunday. “We worked with our partners who manage the network to ensure the issue was resolved quickly.”

On Monday, the NFL issued another statement to make clear that Microsoft’s Surface wasn’t responsible for the disconnect.

“Near the end of the 1st quarter, we experienced an infrastructure issue on the Patriots sideline that impacted still photos for the coaching tablets,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement Monday. “The issue was identified as a network cable malfunction and was resolved during the 2nd quarter. The issue was not caused by the tablets or the software that runs on the tablets. We have experienced no issues with the tablets this season. Any issues were network related.”

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