Sunday’s NFL broadcast of the Bears/Saints playoff game on Nickelodeon, designed to attract kids to football, had an unexpected side effect:
The 60+ demo that I have forced to watch the Nickelodeon version of Saints-Bears with me is preferring it to CBS version. Did not expect that reaction— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) January 10, 2021
That’s something, indeed. The broadcast included the “Slime Zone” for touchdowns:
And fun graphics inserted on highlights:
... and elsewhere:
Us to anyone else watching the game on Nick pic.twitter.com/vy7bxxZgKj— Nickelodeon (@Nickelodeon) January 10, 2021
While the result of the game wasn’t what Bears fans wanted, everyone seemed to enjoy the youthful announcers and irreverent approach:
Penalties were explained by Young Sheldon (again, never seen it) who informed us that a false start — a particular specialty of the Bears on Sunday — “is like when my dad starts shoveling in dinner before Mom says grace.”
And now Young Sheldon is explaining penalties pic.twitter.com/lFuCVEaYd9— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) January 10, 2021
Ben Strauss of the Washington Post notes another way announcer Nate Burleson made the game relatable to kids:
In one tricky moment, Burleson had to reckon for young viewers with the violence of the sport, after a Bears wide receiver was ejected for fighting.
“In football there’s going to be pushing and shoving,” he said. “It’s just like when you’re out there playing with your friends at recess or you have your cousins over at the house. It gets physical.”
Coordinating producer Shawn Robbins unintentionally created a funny moment for Nickelodeon in its pre-game preparation with 15-year-old Gabrielle Neveah Green, a Nickelodeon star, according to Kevin Draper of the New York Times:
Green, who was attending her first N.F.L. game, wasn’t asked to understand football like Burleson, who played in the league for 11 years. But Robbins still wanted to get her a one-page cheat sheet for each team. Instead, a production assistant accidentally included her on the same distribution list for the game notes that went to Tony Romo.
“Her mom sent me an email that said, ‘Um, hey Shawn, what do we need to know from this 800-page packet?’” Robbins said.
Julia Alexander of The Verge explains why this worked:
Despite the zany graphics and color overload not typically present in an NFL match, the broadcast succeeded because it never talked down to its audience. It didn’t feel dumber on Nickelodeon, or even more immature. The game felt vibrant, fun and — for people who spend their Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays hunkered down in front of a television set to catch whatever games are on — refreshingly new.
And so that gave longtime baseball writer Joe Posnanski this idea:
I’m totally giving it up to the NFL — this is awesome and MLB should absolutely have a Nickelodeon game of the week every week of the year.— Joe Posnanski (@JPosnanski) January 10, 2021
And absolutely, yes, 100 percent, baseball should look into doing broadcasts on Nickelodeon. MLB has tried all sorts of things to get kids more interested in baseball and most of those things feel like the 1960s parent saying, “Eat your vegetables, they’re good for you!”
Maybe a Nickelodeon Game of the Week would be too much. Do this too often and it might lose its freshness. But what about, perhaps, trying the All-Star Game on Nickelodeon? That would certainly generate some interest in that game, which has been losing ratings for decades. Or do a couple of Spring Training games as an experiment?
Wouldn’t you love to see Javier Baez with googly eyes? Or the Wrigley Field bleachers spill out with (animated) slime when Anthony Rizzo hits a home run?
Baseball needs to do something to become relevant to younger generations, and Rob Manfred’s initiatives haven’t moved the needle at all. Someone in MLB ought to have been on the phone to Nickelodeon executives during or after that NFL game trying to figure out the best way to bring the sensibilities put forth on Nick during Sunday’s contest to baseball.
On the other hand, this sums up the difference between baseball and football:
NFL: using Nickelodeon to market to kids and instill a love of football into the youth.— Will Sugar (@SugeWill) January 10, 2021
MLB: I still can’t watch my favorite team play baseball because of blackout restrictions.
Be better than that, MLB. Try something new. You, and we, just might like it.