True firsts in the broadcasting world are rare, but January 10 will bring such a circumstance when one of the NFL Wild Card games will be dualcast on CBS and Nickelodeon. Yes, Nickelodeon, the cartoon channel made for children yet to reach their teenage years. The NFL announced the arrangement last offseason shortly after they announced they were expanding the playoff format to add one extra wild card team per conference.
Three weeks to the main event, we were given a glimpse of what, exactly, a football broadcast tailored to such a young audience would look like. It's going to be a unique viewing experience unlike any other in the sporting world.
The network also announced Noah Eagle and Nate Burleson would be on the call alongside two Nickelodeon talents, Gabrielle Nevaeh Green and Lex Lumpkin. Lumpkin, only 14-years-old, will be the sideline reporter and if he can put together a good performance he'll have a future in the industry based on the appeal of his name alone.
Richard Deitsch over at The Athletic clarified that the real-time broadcast will be the same as a standard affair, but the highlight packages will be spiced up with the slime and what have you. So SpongeBob's face will not be between the uprights during a crucial field goal attempt, but he will show up in the highlight cut leading to commercial.
He also asked the question that came to the forefront of everyone's mind when this was first announced: What happens if an injury occurs on the field? It would not be particularly appropriate to slime it up or put googly eyes on everyone as a lineman gets carted off after his leg twisted in the wrong direction. CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus had this to say:
"“I trust the men and women in the truck to handle these situations with the sensitivity, and maybe more of a sensitivity in the Nickelodeon telecast,” McManus said. “We can’t predict what’s going to happen. We’re going to cover what takes place on the field. If there’s a way to modify that coverage appropriately, we will do so. The men and women of CBS have dealt with these situations in the past, and I think they will keep their audience in mind when they are documenting what’s happening on the field or off the field.”"
The NFL nor any of its rights holders have ever tailored a broadcast targeted at such a specific age group. While there will likely be more kids upset that they can't watch their favorite shows for the better part of four hours than kids who will suddenly discover a love of football, it will be very interesting.
Or it'll just be a weird little sideshow that the rest of us kinda just forget about until next year rolls around and we stumble upon it while channel-surfing. Either way, the NFL rarely tries new things on premier broadcasts, and it'll be fun to see how this goes.