Jan 08, 2021
By Kelby Clark
CBS Sports producer Shawn Robbins shares how the network, in partnership with Nickelodeon, created a kid-focused telecast of Sunday's NFL Wild Card Game.
One of this weekend's National Football League playoff games will feature a star who's not known for his skills on the football field: SpongeBob SquarePants.
Nickelodeon's iconic character will appear as part of a set of visual effects in a kid-focused telecast of the NFL Wild Card game between the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, Jan. 10 on Nickelodeon. A separate production of the game will also air simultaneously on CBS. This will be a first-of-its-kind telecast and is an effort to attract a younger and more diverse audience.
“CBS Sports has brought football to audiences everywhere for a long time, but never like this,” says CBS Sports’ Shawn Robbins, coordinating producer of the game. “The kid-focused, Nickelodeon-inspired spin is so fun and unique. The integrity of the game will still be there, but the fact that when a player scores a touchdown it will be in the slime zone, among other surprises, is just super fun.”
In addition to custom on-field graphics inspired by Nickelodeon characters from SpongeBob SquarePants and The Loud House, viewers can expect to see the Mercedes-Benz Superdome end zone convert to a “slime zone” on screen. They can also vote online for their favorite player, who will be awarded the Nickelodeon Valuable Player (NVP) trophy. During the game, All That and Nickelodeon’s Unfiltered stars Gabrielle Nevaeh Green and Lex Lumpkin will be part of the coverage in addition to Los Angeles Clippers radio broadcaster Noah Eagle and CBS Sports’ Nate Burleson. At halftime, the network will preview Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years, which is set to premiere on ViacomCBS’ rebranded streaming service Paramount+ later this year.
Beyond the live game, Nickelodeon launched NFLNickPlay.com in December to help educate kids on football basics. The website features interactive NFL trivia, galleries, videos, downloadable collectibles, including Weekly NickPlay Pick’em printables, and a sweepstakes to win exclusive prizes.
ViacomCBS spoke with Robbins about the challenges of doing animation in real time, what the evolution of virtual production technology means for the future of fan engagement, and how Nickelodeon and CBS Sports worked together to “Nick-ify” this weekend’s simulcast.
"The partnership with Nick opens the door to so much more that we can do together."
There are so many graphics that go into a football game, so we got the graphic teams talking to one another last August. They worked to Nick-ify a lot of the visuals, changing the colors and adding fun, custom Nickelodeon filters.
The spin was so fun and unique. We had the opportunity to build this from the ground up alongside our partners at the league.
The traditional game will still air on CBS. But now they have the option to go to Nick and watch with their kids if they want, and they’re still going to get a really good football game out of us. We're still making sure that the game comes first, even though we’re serving a different audience.
"We're still making sure that the game comes first, even though we’re serving a different audience."
A lot of the animation and visuals that we're trying in the Nick version of this weekend’s game will have a long-lasting effect on future CBS Sports broadcasts. It doesn't have to be googly eyes, and it doesn't have to be lightning bolts, but I can definitely see a future where we create high-end custom graphics and use them to enhance a CBS broadcast.
KC: SpongeBob and his pals from Bikini Bottom will feature prominently throughout the game. What’s the iconic character’s appeal for sports families?
SR: I have three kids who are 12, 9, and 7. They're huge SpongeBob fans. I've also actually watched a lot of SpongeBob too. It’s a multigenerational franchise.
When we announced the game back in mid-December, it was fun to read on Twitter what people thought the game was going to look like, and a lot of people were talking about SpongeBob.