If you turn your TV to Nickelodeon today at 4:30 pm EST, you may notice something very different. Instead of a re-run of Spongebob, the reboot of iCarly, or whatever the network runs nowadays, you will notice an NFL game:
The Wild Card matchup between the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints will be simulcast on the popular children’s network, one of ViacomCBS’s many media properties. Of course, that means that the broadcast is going to be…Nick-ified. That means a lot of cheesy on-field graphics, including a Spongebob-themed goalpost that a kicker is thankful he doesn’t actually have to stare at, a “special halftime show”, and of course, no Nickelodeon presentation would be complete without slime. Imagine Derrick Henry barrelling into the end zone and his dreadlocks getting covered in slime.
It is very easy to see why this broadcast is being done, but here’s an explanation anyway:
“The NFL is very intent on reaching a younger audience, and we thought this would be a great way to do it. When we went in to give our pitch to the NFL, this was front and center in that pitch. They loved it right at the outset. I don’t know how big a factor it was in us being successful in acquiring the wild-card game, but I think it certainly played a part. We were able to prove to them in a very real and tangible way that we could implement this. It was a fun pitch to make.”CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus to Richard Deitsch, The Athletic
Whether this “kid-oriented” broadcast will actually appeal to a younger audience is up for debate for another time. That said, if the NFL generates even a minor level of success on the Nickelodeon project, then at least one of the other three major sports leagues would try to replicate that in some shape or form.
Enter Major League Baseball, who has struggled to target the youth for a while now, and whose efforts to do so have either been thwarted or heavily ridiculed by almost everyone else not paid by MLB. They need to propose something, anything, that does not “mess with” the essence of the on-field product of baseball, and an alternative broadcast would be perfect. In fact, MLB is very familiar with simulcast alternatives, as the ESPN2 Statcast broadcast, introduced during the 2018 NL Wild Card Game, has been a success, or at least among the targeted audience.
So what if Nickelodeon and MLB paired up themselves and put together a kid-friendly version of an MLB postseason game? Let’s break it down.
One of the biggest obstacles to any of this happening is, of course, the fact that Nickelodeon is owned by ViacomCBS. CBS does not have the broadcast rights to MLB and unless one of the game’s rights were to be sold to the network for one game, that is a problem. So let’s just boldly assume that, by whatever means, CBS acquires the rights to broadcast just one wild card game (or series, depending on where we are with expanded playoffs), or ESPN or TBS work out a deal to have a Nick alternate broadcast.
And yes, an easier solution is to just take Disney’s resources and simulcast a game on Disney XD, however, Disney does not have Spongebob and The Fairly OddParents on it’s resume. Also, there is already an MLB and Nicktoons multimedia crossover in the videogame Nicktoons MLB (aka The Bigs 2 re-skinned).
“I think we’ve come up with a really fun and differentiated broadcast, that we know that our kids, you know, the Nickelodeon audience should really enjoy along with their parents.”Brian Robbins, the president of ViacomCBS Kids & Family Entertainment, on the NFL Broadcast
To put together the best telecast that’s oriented towards children, it takes more than slapping the trademark slime onto the screen and calling it a day. There has to be a presentation package that suits such a young audience.
Nick’s NFL package starts with “The SpongeBob SportsPants Countdown Special,” a special pre-game countdown show hosted by the Broncos’ Von Miller. The same thing can be done for MLB, using a current star like Aaron Judge or a former star like Curtis Granderson to fill the chair for 30 minutes. The pre-game countdown should feature appearances from prominent names; imagine Alex Rodriguez explaining the fundamentals of bunting to Timmy Turner, just for the latter to do something wild and wish that A-Rod was the best hitting shortstop of all-time so he doesn’t have to bu…oh wait.
Now let’s get to the actual game. Based on the trailer for the NFL game, we have a good glimpse of what graphics Nick will incorporate: lots of slime and googly eyes. Those are somewhat easy to place in a baseball game too.
For example, in the MLB version, we could have a slime or rainbow trail follow the ball after each hit, with splats to follow each time it hits the ground. If a player makes a diving or leaping catch, a large, green-colored, slime silhouette should appear on the grass or the wall or, in rare cases, all over the stands.
What about away from actual action? We could see the use of big, googly eyes on a pitcher’s face when he is in the stretch. Watching Max Scherzer stare at you in the box with his multi-colored eyes is already intimidating enough, now imagine the viewer at home looking at Scherzer, but with one Spongebob googly eye and another Wanda eye. These can also be used for those shots when a runner is taking off from third base.
How about a “Bikini Bottom”-themed sky, laid over a typical blue sky during the sky camera shots? Why not? Replace the usual scoreboard graphics at Progressive Field or Petco Park with special Nick-themed stuff? Sure. Turn someone sliding headfirst into a bag into diving through the foam that was in the “brain drain” on BrainSurge? Absolutely. Turn the umpires into live-action Krabby Patties…okay, my brain is taking this too far.
Oh, and of course, for every home run hit, slime has to start shooting out of cannons everywhere, around the bases and on the spectators in the stands, as a player rounds the bases. It’s not a Nickelodeon broadcast without the almighty SLIME!
Also, if the seventh inning stretch doesn’t include a televised rendition of Sweet Victory, millions of people might riot…again.
The Broadcast Team
This probably has the most amount of importance, but there aren’t a lot of established options that would fit. The broadcasters for a kid broadcast should not be perceived as “boring” (eliminates Joe Buck and John Smoltz), should lean towards the new era of baseball (eliminates anything involving Rodriguez and more than half of established baseball broadcasters), and should be great with a younger audience (does that just eliminate everyone that hasn’t yet broadcasted the Little League World Series, much less a little league game?). There isn’t a direct comparative decision that can be made from the NFL game, because the play-by-play announcer for the game is 24-year-old Noah Eagle.
The best-established options for a game like this becomes one Jason Bennetti, the voice of the Chicago White Sox, and literally any young player whose team missed the postseason as an analyst. Admittedly, I am not familiar with current Nick personalities, but I am sure the works of Gabrielle Green and Lex Lumpkin will suffice. Hell, if the NFL game is a success and the entire group (minus Nate Burleson) is interested in doing it for baseball, just run it back for the same sport.
With that, I would like to take some time to introduce some…less established options.
I hope that the people who do make these decisions among MLB and at least one of the four national networks that carry the league (FOX, Disney (ABC/ESPN), TBS/TurnerSports, MLB Network) consider an idea like this for baseball. The league, much less the sport, has had a desire to get the youth back into the game for years now. An alternative broadcast geared towards said youth, while not necessarily foolproof, would be a big boost towards its efforts
Again, I fully believe that if the NFL simulcast works, then other sports leagues and networks will follow, especially if the cost to do so is low. So yes, please give me Fernando Tatis Jr. rounding the bases in the Wild Card game while slime spews out of the bases, because…
Follow Payton Ellison, noted Nickelodeon expert (2007-2013), on Twitter (@realpmelli14).