It wasn’t much of a surprise that the New Orleans Saints beat the Chicago Bears in the NFC wild card but when the NFL announced the matchup was going to have its own broadcast in partnership with Nickelodeon, that was a surprise. But even more of a shock is the Nickelodeon broadcast, with slime and SpongeBob SquarePants, was actually a well-executed success.
The broadcast was led by play-by-play broadcaster Noah Eagle and analyst Nate Burleson while Nickelodeon stars Gabrielle Navaeh Green and Lex Lumpkin provided in-game commentary.
Given the network’s superstar, SpongeBob SquarePants was the main fixture for pregame and half-time entertainment. Nickelodeon didn’t shy away from showcasing their signature style: the iconic green slime was used as virtual touchdown celebrations, in-game commentary from Nickelodeon stars and the first ever Nickelodeon Valuable Player award.
There’s no mistaking that the broadcast was most certainly for kids, given the in-depth explanations of the basics to the game (red zone, safety and offside); but the NFL made this a smart move for its future audience. The cardboard cutouts of the Rugrats and the Ninja Turtles in the stadium were an added bonus.
NFL ratings have slipped in the last year, but still leads the pack of other leagues by a wide margin. Sports is in a new age for consumption. Households have eliminated cable over the years and the COVID-19 pandemic has people cancelling their live TV streaming subscriptions. Streaming games from sketchy websites has become the go-to method for a lot of people. Given the hole in the market, the NFL saw where sports were lacking with younger audiences, much younger. The Saints-Bears game provided the blueprint for the future with laidback commentary, network-centric graphics and explanations to what’s happening in the game. This is an early move to the NFL securing growing fans while other leagues like MLB make a minimal effort to retain its diminishing audience.
The social media response was overwhelmingly positive to the Nickelodeon broadcast. Game graphics comparing NFL players to SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick quickly became memes on Twitter, something that the bosses within the NFL and Nickelodeon are definitely proud about.
Sunday’s NFC wild card between the Saints and Bears may or may not have produced the next Super Bowl winner, only time will tell, but it certainly changed how leagues will cater to a new and growing audience.