The good, the great and the awesome: Reviewing Nickelodeon’s first NFL broadcast
When the NFL first announced that a Wild Card playoff game would be simulcasted on Nickelodeon, many adults thought the idea was ridiculous.
After watching the New Orleans Saints defeat the Chicago Bears in a game filled with slime cannons, SpongeBob SquarePants and a 15-year-old in the broadcast booth, however, those same adults were left wanting more of the unique presentation.
In a weekend full of a variety of simulcasts spanning a multitude of networks, the Nickelodeon broadcast somehow came across as the best side-version of the main product any fan would find on ABC/ESPN, CBS, FOX and NBC.
ESPN featured a slew of different simulcasts, known as their “MegaCast” for their Wild Card game between the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans, including an analytical-focused broadcast on ESPN2, a unique broadcast on Freeform, and a standalone, Spanish broadcast on ESPN Deportes.
NBC started streaming its playoff games live on its new streaming service, Peacock, while FOX Digital will host a watch-party of the NFC Championship game towards the end of January.
But, out of all of those options, Nickelodeon somehow managed to tower over the competition, and was the lone simulcast to actually overshadow the game’s main presentation.
CBS was forced to deal with a COVID-19-impacted broadcast team, as play-by-play man Jim Nantz called the game from inside the stadium in New Orleans while analyst Tony Romo was forced to call the game remotely from Dallas as he followed COVID-19 protocols.
As a result, the duo’s chemistry came off as disjointed and delayed on many occasions, with Romo sometimes talking over Nantz or piping in late before the network went to commercial.
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On the flip side, Nickelodeon somehow wound up with a masterpiece of a commentary team, featuring CBS analyst Nate Burleson, 24-year-old Noah Eagle, and 15-year-old Nickelodeon personality Gabrielle Nevaeh Green.
Burleson sounded like a kid in a candy store while calling the game, embracing the unique role in a way that only he could. He had perfect analogies to help children understand what they were seeing on their screens, seamlessly mixing in the audience’s real-life experiences with his longstanding football knowledge.
He called Saints QB/all-around weapon Taysom Hill “the kid at recess who can do everything,” and labeled Saints RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas the “Keenan and Kel of this team.”
Away from specific players, he even likened the process of moving the ball down the field to homework and a team’s work in the red zone to a test.
Meanwhile, Eagle channeled his father Ian’s perfect play-by-play style, sounding like a seasoned veteran instead of a young announcer just a few years removed from a degree at Syracuse University.
Lastly, the 15-year-old Green was perfect in her role, connecting with the younger audience while lightening the mood for two people who will almost certainly be household names in a few years.
Burleson could easily take over James Brown’s spot as the host of CBS’ pregame show, “The NFL Today,” in a few years, while Eagle could follow his father’s footsteps and wind up at a major network calling NBA and NFL games in a few years.
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But, for a day, Green helped the two open up and let loose in a way they likely never have before on a broadcast, and kept things in perspective as major situations played out in the game.
As for the rest of the broadcast, Nickelodeon brought out the big guns to reel in younger views. No, seriously.
Nickelodeon literally had “slime cannons” shooting digitally-inserted slime onto the field whenever one team scored a touchdown in the game, and referred to the red zone as the “Slime Zone” throughout the afternoon.
SpongeBob SquarePants’ face showed up between the uprights during field goals, highlight reels surrounding commercial breaks saw all sorts of animations around players’ faces and bodies, and the game even had a Minecraft-themed halftime show.
Viewers even got to find out their favorite players’ preferred ice cream flavors in spots where a normal broadcast would usually showcase a specific statistic or football-related fact about a player, and saw Saints head coach Sean Payton get slimed after his team’s win.
The audience even got to vote for “Nickelodeon’s Valuable Player” award, or “NVP,” throughout the afternoon, and Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky even won the award, despite being a member of the losing team.
The broadcast truly had it all, even featuring a sideline reporter named Lex Lumpkin to channel his inner Erin Andrews or Michelle Tafoya and add in some perspective (and exclusive interviews) before, during, and after the game.
Honestly, as silly as it all seemed, it left football fans wanting more NFL games to be broadcast on Nickelodeon. The network struck gold with Burleson and Eagle as a dynamic duo, and it legitimately turned into a perfect product for people of all ages.
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Yes, a majority of fans would likely prefer to watch a game like the Super Bowl on its intended network due to the higher stakes. But, who’s to say that a widespread audience wouldn’t tune into a weekly regular season game, or even games from the first two rounds of the postseason, if the NFL decided to make this a more frequent occurrence?
The broadcast served its main purpose by appealing to a younger audience and growing the game in the process, and that’s likely all that higher-ups behind the idea wanted when they made the decision to broadcast a playoff game on Nickelodeon.
What they could not have expected, however, was the outpouring of support from older viewers that accompanied that younger audience, which should serve as the icing on this perfectly-made cake.
We need more of Nate Burleson and Noah Eagle in the booth. We need more of the “Splash Zone” and hundreds of splash cannons. Most importantly, we need more NFL games on Nickelodeon.
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