There was widespread criticism when CBS announced four years ago that it would produce a kid-centric broadcast of an NFL playoff game on Nickelodeon.
Now, if a league or network doesn’t do something to attract young fans, they’re behind the times.
Nickelodeon will broadcast its fifth NFL game on Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It will also be the first alternate broadcast of a Super Bowl game.
For CBS Sports President Sean McManus, the progress from Nickelodeon’s first game of the 2020 playoffs to today has exceeded even his wildest expectations.
“I thought it would be pretty fun with the young announcers and other presenters, but I never thought that for three hours there would be this explosion of graphics, commentary and augmented reality. I really thank the people at Nickelodeon with their technicians and graphics and all that and what they’ve done with our sports brothers at CBS,” McManus said. “We set a new standard every time. Many fathers and mothers have come up to me and said they have never watched a game with their young son or daughter, but they love the Nickelodeon experience.
The idea of SpongeBob and Patrick Star describing a Travis Kelce touchdown isn’t for everyone, but it targets an important audience and demographic for future success.
In an era where viewing is measured more in minutes than hours, and cord-cutting shows no signs of slowing down, the increases leagues and networks can achieve are enormous.
“We know that those who you expose to the game are much more likely to become fans, but it’s also about how do we approach the availability of our games and how can we offer different experiences? How can we adapt appropriately while still providing a high-quality viewing experience that speaks to different parts of our fan base? said Hans Schroeder, NFL executive vice president of media distribution.
In addition to two Nickelodeon games this season, the NFL partnered with Disney+ and ESPN+ to air a “Toy Story”-themed broadcast during the Oct. 1 game in London between the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Everything suggests that the Nickelodeon and Disney games were a success. The previous four Nickelodeon games averaged at least 900,000 viewers while the “Toy Story” competition was the biggest live event to date on Disney+ according to ESPN.
According to the NFL and Nielsen, the audience share of 2 to 11 year olds increased by 4% while that of 12 to 17 year olds increased by 5%.
“I always thought it usually grabs your attention by the time you’re able to play it. Now we’re able to get their attention a little earlier, because of the way Nickelodeon presents these games,” said Nate Burleson, who reprises his role as Nickelodeon game commentator on Sunday.
The NFL isn’t alone in trying different ways to cultivate young fans. The NHL will present its second “Big City Greens” game on ESPN and Disney+ later this season. The NBA and Marvel teamed up in 2021 to present an alternate show featuring The Avengers.
“Like any sports league or media entity today, we are well aware that the consumption level and behavior of younger viewers is different. There is more choice and fragmentation from a content distribution perspective than ever before,” said Dave Lehanski, NHL executive vice president of business development. & Innovation. “There’s a lot of opportunity in all of this to create different types of content.”
In many ways, the use of animation is not new when it comes to teaching the sport and its rules to young spectators. The Walt Disney Company produced Sports Goofy animated shorts in the 1940s about baseball.
Just as Goofy sounded back then, SpongeBob and Slinky Dog from “Toy Story” now teach rules and strategy.
Animation isn’t the only way to attract younger viewers, either. The NFL’s increased investment in the flag as well as its “Play 60” program, which encourages exercise, has appealed to diverse audiences.
ESPN has also seen success with younger advertisers. The network is using an all-youth crew, primarily from Bruce Beck’s broadcast camp, for a KidsCast during the MLB Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
“I think the unique nature of Williamsport kids participating and really leveraging that in broadcasting in a way that I think is really special and unique,” said Julie Sobieski, the league’s senior vice president of programming and acquisitions. from ESPN.
Networks and leagues also continue to experiment with social media and create more viral highlights to keep younger fans engaged.
“We now have many more tools to address the complex consumption habits of young fans. They love live games, but they obviously love watching highlights, consuming content on social media, and creating their own content. The cake has a lot more pieces for younger fans,” Lehanski said.
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