NFL playbooks: There's an app for that

If you watched “Hard Knocks” on HBO this summer, then you already know that the phrase “turn in your iPads” has started replacing “turn in your playbooks” when players are cut from an NFL team.

Want a competitive advantage? As NFL teams are discovering, there’s an app for that. Across the league, teams are trading in their 500-page printed playbooks for iPads.

In the last year alone, NFL teams using the iPad have quadrupled from three to 12, representing more than one-third of all teams. Those who make the switch are discovering that the technology goes far beyond the old playbook capabilities.

PlayerLync is at the forefront of the movement, and is currently being used by five NFL teams: the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers.

Those using PlayerLync report that it has revolutionized the way they push out film and significantly altered the way they communicate. The technology is such a leap forward that other teams are even considering making the iPad switch in midseason.

The Broncos were one of the early adopters of the technology. Since making the switch, team members, IT and video staff say they can’t imagine returning to the old way.

"It changes the way you prepare," says Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme. "You can come off the practice field, get in the cold tub and watch film in the cold tub on your iPad."

In addition to saving printing costs, digital playbooks like PlayerLync are increasing effective, real-time communication by allowing coaches and quarterbacks to add and share plays with the click of a button.

Every time new data, film or information is added, a banner alert pops up (like a text message), signaling players to view the updates.

And if they don’t log in? Coach could know, thanks to optional modules that can track when and how long a player views a play or file. There are also options that update calendars, ensuring the whole team remains on the schedule.

But the real benefit of PlayerLync might be with game film.

Prior to the app, in Denver, for example, sharing practice film was not so streamlined.

“They had to come in, sit down at a computer and look at video that way. Or they had to look at tape and they had to be at a big machine to look at that tape. Now, it’s right on the iPad,” says Russ Trainor, VP of IT for the Broncos.

Now, the film is literally in the palms of players’ hands immediately following practice. Say a team is playing on the road: Once the game ends and they’re headed home, the video teams can be uploading film while players’ apps are downloading it in the TSA line, ready for them to watch on the plane.

Mind you, you won't find PlayerLync alongside Doodle Jump or Bejeweled for 99 cents in Apple's App Store. It’s a private, “full-solution app,” according to Bob Paulsen, CEO and founder of PlayerLync.

Paulsen says that the idea for the app sprung from a conversation at a barbecue with a Broncos staff executive in late fall of 2011.

With a background in telecom -- Paulsen sold his previous business to Bill Gates -- he knew the right people who could make the app happen.

“You can’t create this kind of platform without the extensive background we have,” says Paulsen.

Still, that background didn’t prepare him for the app’s instant appeal. Paulsen says it wasn’t until late in the game that he had to make an outbound call to sell the app -- marketing was entirely done by word-of-mouth.

In fact, when the Broncos agreed to get on board with the platform, Paulsen had yet to set a price. “I asked them what they thought it would be worth,” says Paulsen. They came up with a price together.

Not long after, rather than keep the tech advantage to themselves, the Broncos actually helped spread the word to other teams.

“It was a day before the combine and we realized we needed a few minutes away from development and get our website up. The next day we were meeting with teams [at the combine], and they were quickly receptive to the solution,” says Paulsen.

And for security? No one wants an iPad-gate. NFL teams can feel safe using PlayerLinc. Without getting too nerdy, Paulsen says there are 10 layers of security. Given the data sensitivity, the apps are highly encrypted, and each iPad can be remotely wiped clean if, for example, a player loses his device or is traded to another team.

These days, everyone seems to want a piece of the PlayerLync founder: Both the Broncos and the Rockies have offered Paulsen on-site office space and he’s been approached by hockey, basketball and baseball teams that are interested in the app.

Why is it so popular? According to Paulsen, the reviews from players and coaches have been universally positive.

Broncos coach John Fox says PlayerLync is not just fast, it’s easy to use. “(The players) can download from afar and the turnover happens faster, so the production of our video, in particular, is much more efficient," says Fox. "Even us older guys are becoming more comfortable."

Denver quarterback Peyton Manning says the app makes it easier for the video guys to dispatch footage to different players, giving them no excuse not to study game film. And Chargers QB Philip Rivers appreciates the fact that the app allows for instant revisions -- if a route is changed, it can be immediately updated on the app without the need for printing out a new page and manually adding to a playbook.

And as of late, the app could get even more efficient. That is, if teams take advantage of the latest iteration of the iPad and the new iPad mini, both recently unveiled.

The new devices have double the Wi-Fi speed, which means pushing out game film and content event faster or having an even more portable device, via the smaller mini.

Will teams upgrade now, or wait for the next model?

Welcome to the consumer dilemma, NFL.