NFL teams are swapping out their paper playbooks for iPads. Here's why it matters to your company
More than 10 NFL teams have replaced their decades-old system of paper playbooks with iPads.
The solutions show that iPads are more than just a toy for consumers – they're capable of running mission-critical, highly secure applications. In fact, a regional bank is now modifying one of the solutions from a company called PlayerLync to distribute confidential information to its board members.
In football, playbooks contain a list of the team's plays for the upcoming week. Until recently, they were printed and arranged into binders, distributed to players the week before the game, then destroyed and pulped after the game was over.
This is both costly and inefficient. PlayerLync CEO Bob Paulsen talked to one NFL team that said it cost more than $100,000 per year to maintain paper playbooks. Whenever the coaching staff wanted to insert an update, they'd have to find a way to get the new printed pages to players.
Plus, players are also supposed to watch hours of film from every game, which was a totally separate process.
Combining annotated plays plus video on a single easy-to-use device was a no brainer.
Paulsen explains the appeal of developing for the iPad, as opposed to a traditional personal computer.
"First off, the tablet form factor is absolutely perfect for this environment. Guys are on the road, on the move, traveling, and they really want to watch video. As a replacement for a paper playbook, it's kind of like piece of paper they could draw on. They're not typing. It's simple to administer, and simple to support from an IT standpoint."
It also allows teams to take advantage of the full Apple ecosystem.
"If a coach wants to project a play using Apple TV, they can do that," says Paulsen. "We created something called 'laser finger.' So now, a coach can just be looking at an iPad, click 'activate laser finger,' and anybody in the room can see what the coach is pointing to. It's not a major thing, but it's an example of how Apple created this environment of tools."
PlayerLync only started building its solution a little more than a year ago, but it's already being used by several NFL teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, and San Diego Chargers, plus Stanford in the NCAA.
Why it's not a cloud solution
Paulsen's background is telecommunications – he sold his last company, an IP-telephony provider called Unity Business Networks, to Telesphere in 2009. So his first thought was to create a cloud-based system. Teams would upload their playbook and videos to a secure web site, where players could log in and access them.
(Quarterback Peyton Manning talks to Denver Broncos QB coach Adam Gase. The Broncos are using PlayerLync to push plays and videos to iPads used by players. Photo by Mark Leffingwell/Reuters.)
But the first team that PlayerLync worked with was dead-set against a cloud solution. Playbooks and films are extremely sensitive material – if an opposing team somehow got access to the content on the server, they could turn a close game into a rout. Plus, the team was already storing terabits of video material on its own internal servers, and didn't want to upload it all to a web server every week. Finally, it was shooting the video in high definition, and didn't want to deliver it as a low-quality streaming file over the web.
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