Fantasy football junkies are on the edge of their seat because the NFL is officially back. Last season ended on a high note as the Super Bowl broke records, despite the blowout, with 111.5 million viewers. As you might expect, the NFL is an enormous and important platform for advertisers, its partners, and the brands that are used during games and by athletes. With that said, technology giants Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) are two such companies, and the NFL might very well step-up its game with either.
The NFL is a perfect illustration of why enterprise technology is important: It boosts exposure to the company and is also financially rewarding depending on the size of the enterprise client. This is especially good news for Microsoft, as the company announced recently that its Surface Pro 2 tablets will be used on both the sidelines and in the booths during NFL games.
Microsoft is calling it the Sideline Viewing System, which essentially acts as a photo viewing system for players to see past formations on the field. For example, Eli Manning throws an interception, goes back to the sideline and can then see and explain the exact defensive formation that caused the mistake. In the past, viewers would see quarterbacks, in particular, talking on the phone following an interception, touchdown, or a series, explaining formations with their hands. But now, players of all positions will have an interactive platform to stay on the same page.
Albeit, this is the first major launch for Microsoft in the NFL following their five year partnership last year, reportedly worth $400 million. Already, Microsoft has launched a couple small NFL products, like an application for Windows 8, but this is the first set of hardware and software that coaches and players will use, and viewers will see, with the Microsoft name.
Furthermore, there's a lot that goes into an NFL game, in regards to technology, including film sessions, playbooks, and digital technology like line-of-scrimmage and first-down lines. Notably, pictures are a relatively small piece of the NFL puzzle.
While $400 million over five years is a big commitment from the NFL, Roger Goodell and team owners don't seem to be jumping head first into Microsoft; use of the Surface and Sideline Viewing System is not mandatory, but rather a luxury. Another element is that other technology giants already have a large presence in the NFL, namely Apple.
Currently, Apple's iPads are used as digital playbooks for most NFL teams, which are highly visible to viewers, likely more-so than Microsoft's Surface will be in this coming season. Hence, the NFL may have struck a deal with Microsoft, but teams have shown their loyalty to Apple. Albeit, the NFL has a history of diversifying the companies it works with, having previous long-term deals with both Motorola and IBM (NYSE: IBM ) .
With that said, IBM was a key consultant to the NFL for nearly a decade, and also provided data-center management. However, IBM terminated the program in 2012 when the two parties could not agree on how to manage IT sponsorship. But a lot has changed since then, including IBM and Apple's large enterprise partnership that occurred earlier this year, which could spark the NFL's interest.
Albeit, the technology company that ultimately wins the NFL is still unknown, but what's known is that IBM is one of the strongest enterprise brands in the world, and Apple's hardware and software has some of the greatest appeal in the world. As for Microsoft, it's a strong brand, but more for software like Windows, and aside from a contract signed prior to the Apple and IBM partnership, the NFL has shown no signs of loyalty to Microsoft, or a willingness to flood its brand with Microsoft products.
As it appears, the NFL is simply introducing a minor service in an attempt to determine whether the Surface will stick with teams and players. Reportedly, the partnership with the NFL and Microsoft took 18 months to complete and followed a stretch when it was coming off a partnership with Polaroid.
At that time, Apple's enterprise business was weak, but now with IBM, the landscape for Apple in this arena has changed, and it already owns the favor of coaches and players. As a result, it's not too far-fetched to suggest that Microsoft won't get much further than pictures on the sideline, and with Apple's new beefed-up enterprise capabilities, we could be seeing more of the Apple logo in the years to come on NFL sidelines.
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