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Nickelodeon aired an NFL game and proved technology can make football way more fun

Nickelodeon aired an NFL game and proved technology can make football way more fun


Digital slime in the end zone should happen every week

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The Nickelodeon half-time report, presented in block form.
The Nickelodeon half-time report, presented in block form.

If people tuned into the Chicago Bears vs. New Orleans Saints game on CBS, they may have missed all the slime. In a play for a broadcast aimed at a younger audience, the NFL aired the Wild Card matchup simultaneously on Nickelodeon, with its own announcers, goofy on-screen animations, and touchdown celebrations featuring SpongeBob SquarePants characters and, of course, green slime.

From the minute the game kicked off at 4:40PM ET to the second it ended, Nickelodeon’s broadcast was chaotic absurdity and a total delight. Whenever a player scored a touchdown, slime cannons would erupt in the end zone. Digital art, like clouds appearing at players’ feet or lighting across their chest, appeared often during replays. Nickelodeon stars — including 15-year-old Gabrielle Nevaeh Green — reported from the sidelines, making references to the network’s shows. Everyone involved seemingly embraced the utter silliness of it all.

Part of the novelty was the spectacle of it all; Nickelodeon doesn’t air NFL games (this was a special effort organized by ViacomCBS, which owns Nickelodeon) and its characters are so well known that seeing Squidward and Patrick Star emerge from a dog pile works across a number of different audiences. Part of it, however, is also a testament to how technology can do more than just enhance the visual quality of games (yes, the 8K camera footage was unsettling) — it can make them way more fun.

Like something out of a fever dream, the broadcast walked a fine line between feeling like a video game simulation of an NFL Wild Card game and an actual NFL Wild Card game. It was more colorful than a standard NFL game, and having Young Sheldon appear to explain the rules quickly to viewers managed to stay cute instead of creating an abysmal, eye-rolling experience. As Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr wrote, “To have the game stripped of all its self-importance and hubris was an absolute delight.”

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.

Technology doesn’t just have to provide the clearest or sharpest viewing experience. It can also create the most innovative, inventive, and downright fun. A quick Twitter search reveals that I’m not the only person who enjoyed seeing the end zone splattered with slime when Drew Brees hit Michael Thomas for a touchdown.

Here’s hoping that ViacomCBS figures out a way to do it again in the 2021-2022 season, or at the very least, continues experimenting. Also, just tossing it out into the universe, but considering that Disney owns ESPN and has experimented with simulcasting games on its ABC network, why not find a way to broadcast a game on Disney Channel? Elsa and Olaf can provide live commentary! Captain America and Iron Man can represent the two opposing teams and fight! Lightsabers can light up in the end zone when touchdowns happen!

NFL games don’t have to be serious all the time. Nickelodeon proved there’s an excited audience, of kids and adults, who would take a little SpongeBob throughout the four quarters.