Why Most NFL Teams Are Ditching Their Playbooks For iPads [Feature]

Why Most NFL Teams Are Ditching Their Playbooks For iPads [Feature]

The right tools and apps make the iPad a perfect solution for NFL teams.

The NFL season kicks off tonight with a game that pits the New York Giants – last season’s champions – against the Dallas Cowboys. For many teams, this season also marks the first use of iPads instead of the traditional paper playbooks. A handful of teams pioneered the iPad as a complete replacement for playbooks last year. Although the iPad was only used as a playbook replacement by a few teams last year, it was more broadly used as a training tool and a companion to traditional playbooks. This year many more teams are investing in the iPad as a digital playbook and a player training solution as well as a way for coaching staff to communicate more directly and effectively with players.

There’s certainly a cool factor that any technology and football fan will appreciate. There’s also a lot that many businesses can learn from the NFL teams about how the iPad can be secured, managed, and used in almost any professional context.

The iPad Is More Than Just a Digital Playbook

The iPad is a natural replacement for NFL playbooks.

The iPad is a natural replacement for NFL playbooks – in large part for the same reason it’s a natural replacement for pilot flight bags. It condenses a lot of data that has traditionally been printed material into a lightweight device. That dramatically cuts costs – traditional playbooks are typically about 500 pages and are revised and reprinted every week (sometimes more frequently if last-minute changes need to be made) and each printing run can be over 100 copies. It’s also easier to search and manage content on an iPad versus 500+ printed pages stuffed into a binder. The iPad is also more environmentally sound since fewer pages are printed and then shredded every week.

Cost cutting isn’t the iPad’s sole advantage, however. In fact, it may not directly offer any savings over the $100,000 that one team reported as the annual cost of printed playbooks. Some NFL teams reportedly prefer 64GB new iPad with LTE for their storage and high-speed connectivity. At retail pricing that means an $82,900 invest if a team deploys 100 iPads – most teams seem to describe the needs as needing around 100 devices. That’s before any mobile security and management solution, custom or public apps, or the cost of the LTE data players use.

Cost cutting isn’t the iPad’s advantage. It may even be more expensive than paper, but the iPad has other advantages – ones that outweigh any  potential costs.

While simple playbook replacement makes iPad appealing, the real power is in the other advances that the  iPad offers – ones that outweigh potential costs. iPad-based playbooks offer unique features impossible with their printed predecessors.

One of those advantages is the ability to actually draw or write on the screen. Coaches or players wanting to illustrate a route or pass protection can do so onscreen, much like the telestrator used by commentators. That ability is helpful on an individual level, but as some teams have discovered, it has real power when used with Apple’s AirPlay mirroring and an Apple TV – a coach can literally draw on a still shot from video to illustrate a point. PlayerLync, one of the major vendors in the iPad as playbook space, has even developed a feature that it calls “laser finger” for when an iPad is being used in such a way.

Why Most NFL Teams Are Ditching Their Playbooks For iPads [Feature]

DigitalPlaybook’s app demonstrates the ability to draw on live content.

Another major iPad advantage is that players and coaches can easily add, edit, and delete notes. Beyond notes, whole plays can be reworked and changes can be easily incorporated onto every iPad with minimal effort. This also means that coaches can highlight and add notes to plays that individual players need to work on improving. On the flip side of that, the iPad lets players can easily reference plays or other information when talking to coaches and each other.

The iPad is also an excellent training solution beyond replacing playbooks because specific video clips of a player’s performance during practice or a game can be easily reviewed by that player and specific members of the coaching staff. The iPad also makes it easy to study video of specific players on an opposing team. That access to specific video data is more flexible that all team members watching the same video, particularly when different segments apply to some players but not others.

Why Most NFL Teams Are Ditching Their Playbooks For iPads [Feature]

iPads offer new ways for coaches and players to review video footage.

The iPad also makes it easy to study video of specific plays and players.

The iPad also opens up new avenues for communication between players, coaches, and staff. The iPad offers a range of communication and collaboration useful to NFL teams (or any organization with a sizable on-the-road staff). That can mean email, texts/iMessage, and instant messaging. It can mean secure voice and video chats. It can means more structured business collaboration options like shared calendaring and resource assignment – things that are critical for away from home games. It can even mean internal social networks that allow players and staff to interact in a more freeform way. The iPad can also serve as a personal connection to family and loved ones while on the road.

Of course, an NFL team is a business organization. Support staff like resource and equipment coordinators, travel managers, sports medicine doctors and their staff,and others are critical parts of a team’s success. The iPad can be used as an at-home or on the road solution for key business processes like expense management, travel arrangements, resource planning, promotions setup and management, and dozens or hundreds of other business tasks.

One Piece Of Software or Many?

When it comes to iPads, not all teams are choosing the traditional enterprise IT vendor model.

One of the iPad as playbook solutions on the market is PlayerLync. PlayerLync was developed in advance of last year’s NFL season and the solution is barely more than a year old. PlayerLync is designed around the concept of creating a single iOS app that can be extended with various modules. Customizations can be made for teams based on specific needs or preferences. The app serves as a single solution. In those respects, PlayerLync is very similar to traditional business computing solutions – everything comes from a single vendor and each module is is designed to easily interoperate with every other module.

PlayerLync currently offers more than a dozen different modules for different features and needs.

  • Playbook publishing and updating
  • Video playback from practices and previous games
  • A module for quickly editing and distributing game or practice video called TravelLync
  • Communications for players and coaches to interact
  • A calendar and events module
  • A testing module to ensure that encourages communication and understanding of playbook content
  • A statistics module
  • Secure access to a team’s office intranet
  • Document management similar to solutions like SharePoint and BaseCamp
  • An equipment inventory and management module
  • A module for ticket requests
  • LifeLync, an internal team communications module similar to an internal social network
  • Scouting and recruiting tools

Teams can have pick and choose which PlayerLync modules they need or want without or without customized capabilities.

Why Most NFL Teams Are Ditching Their Playbooks For iPads [Feature]

PlayerLink’s modules and and functionality.

PlayerLync evokes the image of the traditional enterprise IT vendor that offers one-stop shopping. That isn’t a model that not all teams are choosing.

Many teams are building their own ala carte iPad setups.

The iPad has been a major factor in the so-called consumerization of IT movement. That movement focuses on selecting the best individual options for specific needs, including device and data security. That movement has led to the adoption of bring your own device (BYOD) programs, a new focus on mobility needs and solutions, and selection of the best apps and tools for specific tasks from a large menu of options that includes in-house tools, contracted solutions like PlayerLync, and public apps from sources like Apple’s App Store.

Many teams, according to some reports as many as half of all NFL teams, are building their own ala carte iPad setups. PlayerLync’s biggest competition in the NFL is a series of channel partners based that include playbook app companies like DigitalPlaybooks and Global Aptitude. DigitalPlaybooks offers playbook and training features for a range of sports and organizations. Global Aptitude develops digital playbook technologies focuses on NFL and top tier NCAA college football teams. It lists Apple and mobile management vendor AirWatch as its strategic partners.

Why Most NFL Teams Are Ditching Their Playbooks For iPads [Feature]

DigitalPlaybook’s interface on the iPad.

This model relies on a range of technologies and apps.

This model relies on a range of technologies and apps to create an iPad solution. Device and app management, in which coaches or administrators define what iPad features and apps can be used, is often a feature of proven enterprise solutions like AirWatch. Apps used for intra-team communications and collaboration can include a range of secure options, including Apple’s own apps like the iOS Calendar app, depending on a teams needs or preferences. Global Aptitude handles the playbook, video, and related training and practice solutions. The approach doesn’t offer the easy one-stop shopping that PlayerLync does, but it does offer a wider degree of flexibility all around. That flexibility may be most noticeable by administrative staff, who have access to a wide range of business, travel, finance, and scheduling solutions.

Teams can also develop their own internal apps (or hire someone to developer their own apps) that leverage security and content control features like those available through AirWatch’s developer SDK. In-house development, rather than customization, is a pretty powerful feature.

Mobile management software can be used to enforce key policies including acceptable use policies.

As a longtime developer of mobile management solutions, AirWatch can be used to enforce key policies including acceptable use and content policies – an issue brought up by the Miami Dolphins policy of a $10,000 penalty for a player’s inappropriate use of an iPad. AirWatch,like other mobile management vendors, also offers an amazing range tools for monitoring how iPads are being used and managing the content that is stored on them.

iPad and Data Security

For NFL teams no question is more important than data security.

When it comes to how NFL using iPads, no question is more important than data security. The data on a team iPad includes everything that an opposing team needs to turn what might have been a close match-up into a virtual bloodbath – something that could easily have immense repercussions to a team’s reputation, the careers of individual players, sponsorship and endorsement deals, and merchandising options. NFL teams aren’t alone in needing to ensure absolute security, of course, and some of the options available are used by major corporations and government agencies.

The typical iPad security solutions focus on device, app, and content management.

  • Device management ensures that only needed device features are enabled – that can mean deactivating the on-board cameras, prevent the ability to install outside apps, and requiring a passcode to unlock an iPad. It also means that ability to wipe a lost or stolen device.
  • App management offers easy install and update of apps across all iPads used by a team, suggesting apps to players and others in a team’s organization, and alerting coaches or administrators to the install of unauthorized apps.
  • Content management means the secure distribution of documents, videos, and other files to all the iPads used by a team. It also means controlling which players or coaches see which content. At a granular level, access to specific information can denied or allowed. Most importantly, content management means securely encrypting content on a device such that someone stealing an iPad wouldn’t be able to get to the secure information and videos stored on it.

AirWatch offers all three types of features, which makes it an ideal part of the iPad as playbook forumla. Other mobile management companies offer some or all of the same features as well.

PlayerLync offers its own take on data security using a model different that is different from other apps, including enterprise-oriented apps. In fact, it’s a model that might not be endorsed by Apple – something that PlayerLync as an enterprise developer doesn’t need to consider because customized solutions delivered directly to an enterprise customer can avoid the App Store review process.

PlayerLync’s security is based on app check-in functionality (sometimes called heartbeat security). If PlayerLync’s iPad app is unable to communicate with a team’s servers on a regular basis like if it was stolen and put in airplane mode, it will simply delete all related content. If the iPad app restores a connection after being disconnected and deleting data, it will re-download that data.

In the end, the advantages of the iPad for NFL teams (as well as for college teams) are the same advantages that the iPad offers in businesses and schools – easy access to long-form content (a textbook is similar in length to a playbook), new forms of mobile collaboration, the ability to learn or study in multiple ways (text, images, video, with or without notations), and a mechanism securely distribute and store content.

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  • Stevebxk

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  • Steffen Jobbs

    The iPad seems like it would be useful. Why are there so many detractors saying that a person can’t do anything worthwhile with an iPad? For what it is being used for I don’t see how a Windows netbook would be that much better.

About the author

Ryan FaasRyan Faas is a technology journalist and consultant living in upstate New York who has written extensively about Apple, business and enterprise IT, and the mobile industry. In addition to writing for Cult of Mac, he is a contributor to Computerworld, InformIT, and Peachpit Press. In a previous existence he was a healthcare IT director as well as a systems and network administrator. Follow Ryan on Twitter and Google +

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