The National Football League signed a five-year, $400 million contract with Microsoft in 2013 that gives teams custom Microsoft Surface tablets to use in training and, more importantly, on the sidelines during nationally televised games.
Coaches and players use the tablets to review plays and analyze data in real time — or at least that's how it's supposed to work.
In the first half of the AFC Championship game Sunday night between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, the Patriots' tablets briefly stopped working during the Broncos' second scoring drive.
Commentators and analysts have wrongly referred to the tablets as "iPads" in the past. Al Michaels, for example, made that mistake in the NFL season opener in September, as Geek Wire reported. It's a costly slip of the tongue considering the aforementioned $400 million contract, and the announcers and reporters covering Sunday's title game were clearly being diligent in using the product's correct name. Unfortunately for Microsoft, that made for some unwanted publicity.
"They're having some trouble with their Microsoft Surface tablets," CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn said 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."
To make matters worse, Microsoft aired several TV ads during the game, one of which coincided with the malfunction.
The poor timing was not lost on viewers.
For its part, Microsoft said in an emailed statement that the network was at fault, not the tablets themselves.
"Our team on the field has confirmed the issue was not related to the tablets themselves but rather an issue with the network. We worked with our partners who manage the network to ensure the issue was resolved quickly," a Microsoft spokesman said.