Millions of curious adults turned in last night to see how Nickelodeon would cover the Saints-Bears NFL wild-card game. The experimental broadcast was a surprising success, raising a fairly uninteresting game to a trending social media event and potentially exposing the world to a future star in sports media.
An NFL game with a Nickelodeon twist
The partnership was possible thanks to CBS’s 2019 merger with Viacom, the owners of Nickelodeon. CBS carried a standard broadcast of the game.
Nickelodeon’s broadcast, on the other hand, was anything but standard. Everything about the game, from graphics to music, had a Nick touch. Surprisingly, the network even had its own version of the standard “NFL presentation” bumper at the ready.
The first-down line was represented by a trail of green and orange slime – a Nickelodeon tradition dating back to the ’80s series You Can’t Do That on Television. Whenever a player scored a touchdown, computer-generated cannons rose from the corners of the field to shoot green slime all over the end zone — or “slime zone.”
The Saints’ Michael Thomas was the first to reach the “slime zone,” just under 10 minutes into the first quarter.
Naturally, the Nickelodeon broadcast took plenty of time to plug the network’s lineup of shows and not just SpongeBob. At one point in the first half, a graphic compared Saints running back Alvin Kamara to the lead character from the current Nick series Alvin & the Chipmunks. Before commercial timeouts, NFL players could be seen celebrating touchdowns alongside characters from the series The Loud House.
An NFL broadcast tailored toward younger viewers
There is a steep wall to climb for viewers to truly understand how football works — even American viewers. Nickelodeon’s broadcast attempted to familiarize its younger audience with the intricacies of the sport. Before the game, Nickelodeon ran a segment explaining football’s basic points system: touchdowns worth six points, field goals worth three, etc.
The indisputable star of the show was color-commentator and former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson, who received widespread praise on social media for his down-to-earth explanations of football concepts for younger fans. Throughout the game, Burleson peppered references to Nickelodeon series old and new into his commentary — he grew up watching the network regularly.
When the first penalty flag of the game fell, Burleson explained that it “…wasn’t like the flag on the obstacle course on Double Dare.”
The postgame was just as chaotic
Nickelodeon awarded a special “NVP” — Nickelodeon Valuable Player — to the winner of a fan vote. That winner was Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, in a losing effort. Incredibly, Trubisky carried 49% of the vote, beating out his Bears teammate Akiem Hicks and the Saints’ Cameron Jordan. If this truly is Trubisky’s final game in Chicago, at least he has a heck of a consolation prize.
Trubisky was 19-of-29 for 199 yards with one touchdown.
And for good measure, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton received a real-life sliming after the game.