NFL targets younger audience with Nickelodeon broadcast of playoff game

Riley Platt, Reporter

For most young kids, there’s nothing quite like watching your favorite cartoon. Some children are also drawn to sports at a young age. On Sunday, the NFL put together a special broadcast that could be considered the best of both worlds.

This past weekend served as host to the opening round of the NFL Playoffs, with three games taking place on Saturday, along with another three on Sunday. However, the matchup between the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints came with a special twist: a kids-centric broadcast of the game would be aired on Nickelodeon, with the standard presentation aired on CBS. The announcement received mixed reactions, with many older fans viewing it as a joke of sorts. While the broadcast may seem silly, the NFL is making an attempt to grow its base by appealing to young, potential fans.

Prior to the game, a “Spongebob Sportspants Countdown” served as a pregame show. This opener was hosted by former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson, and consisted mainly of sports-themed clips from the hit Nickelodeon series “Spongebob Squarepants”.

As game time approached, coverage switched over to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, the site of the game. Play-by-play announcing was performed by Noah Eagle, son of longtime announcer Ian Eagle. Joining him in the booth was the aforementioned Nate Burleson, along with Nickelodeon personality Gabrielle Nevaeh Green. Before kickoff, the main rules of the sport and scoring were explained. This was a nice touch when appealing to an audience who might not know exactly how the game is played.

The presence of the famed Nickelodeon slime was greatly felt, with hints of bright green all throughout the presentation, including virtual slime cannons that were fired when a touchdown was scored.

Another fun feature was an image of Spongebob in between the uprights when field goals and extra-point kicks were attempted.

The game itself was not very exciting, with the Saints quite easily handling the Bears, winning 21-9. That score itself makes the game seem slightly better, but many would write off the Bears’ only touchdown of the game as a ‘garbage time’ score, happening as time expired in the fourth quarter. 

Another interesting component of the broadcast was the NVP (Nickelodeon Most Valuable Player), which was determined by a fan vote. This award showed that many viewers likely weren’t avid sports fans, as Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky won the fan vote. This resulted, despite him throwing for less than 200 yards, and just one touchdown, in a loss.

With the NFL already being the most popular professional sports league in America, one may wonder why they would feel the need to expand their fanbase. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused sports leagues a major issue: revenue loss from event attendance. Bringing in new fans will likely lead to those fans contributing to the league financially, whether that be through apparel sales or their TV viewership. Also, it’s never bad to build for the future. Many kids may already be NFL fans, but bringing the broadcast to them is a great way of securing their interest. The implementation of things they already know and love, such as their favorite cartoon characters, is a way of increasing that interest.

This isn’t to say that the broadcast went perfectly — it certainly had its moments. The commentary received some criticism, albeit from adults who weren’t a part of the intended audience. Obscene language from players caught on the microphone at full blast wasn’t exactly ideal for a children’s broadcast, but that’s just a risk that is taken with live television. 

Overall, the broadcast was well-received and could easily be seen as a success. We don’t know what the ratings will look like just yet, but the presentation set social media ablaze. It was certainly interesting to see, and one can only think that this will be tried again, whether it be Nickelodeon or another children’s network.


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