Nate Burleson Nate Burleson Nate Burleson
Jan 8, 2021 Content Success
Bringing the NFL to a New Generation of Fans

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 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.

Kelby Clark: How will The NFL Wild Card Game on Nickelodeon differ from CBS’ broadcast on Sunday?

Shawn Robbins: A lot of it is really about taking the CBS Sports look and turning it into a Nickelodeon look. We all know CBS Sports’ brand of football is the best in the business, so we translated that into something designed for Nickelodeon audiences.

KC: What were the challenges of putting together this special telecast during a global pandemic?

SR: Technology really played a major factor in how we were able to put the show together.

Because we’re working with so many custom visuals, we had to rely on the engineers on both the CBS side and the Nick side to figure out a way to transfer data very, very quickly.

We did a rehearsal during the Eagles-Packers game on Dec. 6, where we set up a full production truck to see how the graphics would look and function during a live game. (Before that, we were looking at graphics against black backgrounds.) We took elements from the Eagles-Packers game on-site and sent them to the Nickelodeon graphics team based in New York. They created high-level graphics and filters, sent them back to us, and we put a package together that we could view against the game in real time. This all happened within about five minutes.

KC: What was it like to work with partners across the ViacomCBS family to plan this experience?

SR: I’m a longtime CBS guy, and I’ve worked on some really big events in my time at the network. This project in particular feels equally as big in a lot of ways. The partnership with Nick opens the door to so much more that we can do together.

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.

It was natural to have SpongeBob be a part of the game, and the team at Nickelodeon created custom, never-seen-before SpongeBob content exclusively for our broadcast.

The franchise, and really, all of Nick’s IP, is just so special. These characters are so relatable to all of us who have grown up with Nickelodeon, and a lot of us now have kids of our own. I remember watching SpongeBob―now I get to share it with my kids.

The NFL Wild Card Game between the Bears and the Saints airs Sunday, Jan. 10 at 4:30 p.m. ET on Nickelodeon and CBS. It is also available to stream on mobile for free via the NFL app.