This week there’s a sporty, slimy bonus for podcast listeners. Sports radio host Hayes Permar offers his take on the recent NFL game that aired on the kids’ channel Nickelodeon.
The National Football League continued its run as a ratings behemoth even through a pandemic, with NFL programming accounting for eight of the top 10 broadcasts of 2020, and games not involving the New York Jets regularly drawing 10 to 20 million viewers. Never one to turn down money, the NFL actually added two first-round playoff games this year, much to the delight of their television partners.
It's no surprise, then, that come playoff time, when the stakes and the ratings are even higher, networks are using their rights to NFL games to boost their other commodities, namely streaming services and Spanish language channels. That’s why NBC carried games not only on the mothership, but also on Telemundo and their still relatively new streaming service, Peacock. And ABC spread around its first weekend NFL playoff game to ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+.
But no network drew more attention — measured in 2021 by the all important, if not quite measurable, “social media buzz” — than CBS, which had a special broadcast of its Sunday afternoon game between the Bears and the Saints … on Nickelodeon.
The broadcast was aimed, of course, at kids, with Spongebob Squarepants and friends introducing the game, and quick splashy segments explaining the rules in order to educate — or, if you’re cynical, indoctrinate — America’s youth on the game of football. And of course, there was slime.
The end zones became slime zones, or it at least looked that way thanks to game director Suzanne Smith and her technical crew, who were poised and ready to fire slime cannon graphics when someone scored. Other visual Nickelodified tweaks — like Spongbob’s face in between the uprights during kicks — cued viewers that if they were looking for Jim Nantz and Tony Romo in blazers, they were in the wrong place.
Instead, calling the Nick broadcast were play-by-play man Noah Eagle, a professional sportscaster and son of CBS’ Ian Eagle, and Nate Burleson, a former player and current CBS analyst who played the role of big kid perfectly. Joining them in the booth was Nick talent Gabrielle Naveah Greene, with Nick’s Lex Lumpkin on the sideline reporting. Greene was great in part because she didn’t treat a football game as if it were something as grave and serious as, say, a domestic attack on the U.S. Capitol and just enjoyed herself — something her adult counterparts can’t always do. Instead of pondering the intricacies of the cover three defense, she asked important kid questions like, “Where do they go to the bathroom?”
The game wasn’t error-free, like when Bears wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson could be heard audibly dropping what may have been the first f-bomb in Nickelodeon history, or when Burleson compared a potential head injury to “skinning your knee and getting back in the game.” Or maybe when online voters took it upon themselves to patronizingly make sure the NVP trophy went to the losing team’s quarterback.
But the broadcast was fun, which is more than could be said for the game, a 21-9 Saints win that didn’t offer much in the way of on-field entertainment. The biggest drama late in the broadcast became whether or not we’d see a live sliming, with the talent producing several buckets of real life green goo after the audience had been primed by the digital version. Neither the winning players nor the broadcasters were quite ready to go all in on that piece of Nickelodeon christening. But will the NFL? Smith told Richard Dietsch of “The Athletic” that she’d love to try it again for another playoff game, but admitted the amount of work probably makes it unlikely we’ll see kid-focused NFL games as a regular Sunday feature.
Back in the locker room, winning Saints coach Sean Peyton DID agree to be slimed live — the real thing, not the digital slime cannons. I’m guessing he won’t be the last NFL coach to get the slime treatment, perhaps followed by a Gatorade bath.