The decision by the NFL and CBS to simulcast yesterday’s Bears-Saints playoff game on Nickelodeon resulted in thousands of parents around the country watching the channel-specific broadcast with their children. I know that, because I was one of those parents. There was no way that my six-year-old son Conner would have watched much of the game if I had put on CBS for the traditional broadcast. However, as soon as I mentioned to him around lunchtime the possibility of seeing SpongeBob on a football game, he was in -- so much so that he made sure to remind me as the afternoon progressed that he was excited to watch the game. That has never happened before, so this experiment could already have been considered a success even before kickoff.
SEEING FAMILIAR FACES: The broadcast itself was actually pretty enjoyable for both members of this father-son duo. Conner loved the fact that there were brief appearances from characters of some of the shows on Nick that he watches -- he particularly liked an on-screen comparison between Saints RB Alvin Kamara and Alvin of Chipmunks fame. The frequent shots of cartoons kept him engaged in the game much longer than he likely would have been otherwise. More than once I heard him say, “There’s Lincoln from ‘Loud House’” -- I personally don’t have the first idea who that is, but he certainly did. Conner also enjoyed the virtual slime cannons that went off in the end zone after Saints WR Michael Thomas scored the game’s first touchdown. That actually became what Conner was hoping for as the game went on -- not touchdowns, but more virtual slime.
READY TO ROCK THE VOTE: As time was trickling down in the second quarter, Conner kept asking me when halftime was coming. I thought that was because he wanted to watch the sneak peak of a new SpongeBob series that was promoted throughout the first half. He actually wanted to vote online for the game’s “NVP” -- Nickelodeon Valuable Player. Clicking on that interactive feature allowed us to talk about what some of the players had done to that point in the game and who should get our vote. (Full disclosure -- he voted for Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky. It was all over when I told Conner that Trubisky is a Tar Heel.)
RELATING TO THE AUDIENCE: Going inside the booth, I really appreciated the effort that broadcasters Noah Eagle and Nate Burleson made in connecting what was happening on the field without going over the heads of the target audience. Eagle did a really good job of providing play-by-play while explaining to the audience what happened without using too much football jargon. Likewise, Burleson often referenced current and former Nick shows while describing how important certain players are -- he compared Kamara and Thomas to legendary Nick duo Kenan and Kel. Burleson also drew a legitimate laugh from me when talking about how Trubisky was benched midway through the season and compared it to getting grounded by your parents. Nick star Gabrielle Nevaeh Green sat between Eagle and Burleson, and the teenager did a nice job a bringing a sincere naivety to the proceedings. She kept marveling at the height that punters would get on their kicks and at one point asked what happens when players need to go to the bathroom during the game.
WORTH DOING AGAIN: My main take away from this broadcast? There definitely should be a next time. Conner’s interest in the game started to wane quickly after the start of the second half, but the fact he watched a half of football -- fully engaged in all aspects of the broadcast -- was way more than what I expected from him. When I tucked him into bed last night, he talked about how he enjoyed watching the game and how it was so much better than “old, boring football.” I don’t know if he’s going to want to watch any of the divisional round games this coming weekend, but for at least one afternoon, a six-year-old boy in suburban Charlotte counted himself an NFL fan, and that’s how seeds are planted.