Nickelodeon’s telecast of NFL playoff game merits attention for reaching kids but isn’t sustainable

With the help of CBS and the cooperation of the NFL, Nickelodeon tried something very different last Sunday.  It repurposed CBS’ video feed of the Saints-Bears Wild Card broadcast and embedded it with customary animation, lingo and bright coloring generally seen on the kids network. The separate team of talent catered to Nickelodeon’s core audience, toddlers, ages five and up.

The announce team was made up of Noah Eagle, son of CBS’ Ian Eagle, NFL analyst Nate Burleson, actress Gabrielle Nevaeh Green, 26, and teen actor Lex Lumpkin, 14.

Fewer youngsters are now watching sports on television. So by doing this, the NFL and CBS hoped to build demand for football among children. Get in the habit early, so to speak.

Nickelodeon is owned by ViacomCBS.

How did it go? A breakdown of the good and not so good of this experimental broadcast:

  • According to Sports Media Watch, “The Bears-Saints telecast produced a Nielsen-estimated 16.4 rating and had 30.65 million viewers across CBS, CBS All-Access and Nickelodeon. The number is down 15% in ratings and 13% in viewership from the same window last year.” If you’re wondering, SMW says CBS averaged 28.59 million and Nickelodeon 2.06 million.
  • #Nickelodeon was the number one trending topic in the USA on Twitter during the telecast of the game and generated over 2 billion impressions across all social media!
  • Noah Eagle, 24, did a fine job, considering the fact that this essentially was his network television debut and that he had to serve two different constituencies. Noah couldn’t ignore parents watching the game and as such employed traditional football lingo when needed, the kind his dad would use calling a game. At the same time, he had to stay in the children’s lane by incorporating Nickelodeon’s glossary. Not easy. He did the best he could to balance inharmonious jargon.
  • Nate Burleson, 39, excelled and carried the unexperienced team. He knows more than enough about football having played in the NFL. He is also very current as demonstrated regularly by his outstanding work on CBS and the NFL Network. Nate is capable of providing intelligent game insight while also dumbing it down for the younger audience. He has young kids at home.
  • Nevaeh Green and Lumpkin provided enthusiasm, passion and name recognition to the broadcast, more than anything else.
  • The graphics were more colorful and lively – green, blue, orange and purple. When either team kicked field goals, SpongeBob’s face was superimposed between the goal posts. Good idea but it did make it a bit difficult to see whether the football carried through the uprights. After scoring a touchdown, the end-zones, renamed “the Slime Zone,” shot Nickelodeon’s famous green slime all over the scoring team. There were also cardboard cutouts of Nickelodeon characters placed in a seating section inside the New Orleans Superdome.
  • Rule explanations were aplenty, covering fundamentals like the definition of a first down. Then there was “Young Sheldon” from the eponymous Nickelodeon television show explaining penalties and the reason they’re called. The barrage of hand holding in this regard may have been a slight insult to the intelligence of a more seasoned football viewer. Then again, kids haven’t had their fill of football, not yet.
  • The broadcast also had an NVP (Nickelodeon Valuable Player) selected by online voting, which was treated derisively. Chicago Bears’ quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was the winner, although he was hardly having his best game. The broadcast crew kidded about showing the voting in progress, laughing at the results. They were supposed to slime the NVP winner but obviously it wouldn’t go over well with a QB who was just bounced out of the playoffs.
  • Coach Sean Payton was slimed after the game, although it was done once the broadcast ended, which was a huge missed opportunity for some more fun.

Overall, the experiment was more laid back, fun and kid-friendly (one F bomb did drop during the game as a player passed by a referee’s open microphone). It will be interesting to see whether the NFL does more of these simulcasts in the future, perhaps for the Super Bowl. Never a bigger platform.

If Disney is in the rotating mix of getting the Super Bowl, there would be no better place to cultivate kids. Disney’s ESPN does an excellent job of presenting a Megacast of the College Football National Championship Game.



Blake Freas

Blake Freas is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is majoring in Sports Journalism and hopes to pursue a career in sports marketing, journalism, or broadcasting.

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Michael Green
3 years ago

Good job by Mr. Freas! And I think there are certain aspects of what Nick did that could wind up in regular telecasts, considering what can be done with computer animation. It also would be nice if analysts tried doing a game without technical terms. If anything made John Madden popular and has made Tony Romo his spiritual successor, it’s that they are having fun and not getting caught up in the frammis with the frappin in the flim-flam jiltz being what the tertiary receiver does.