Apart from the usual coverage on CBS Sports, NFL collaborated with Nickelodeon for a kid-friendly coverage of the Wild Card round of the playoffs game between the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints on January 10, 2021. Very soon after the broadcast started, umpteen fans of different sports like hockey, baseball and basketball took to social media to point out how the governing bodies of the sports mentioned thereof need a kid-friendly broadcast to attract young generation towards sports. Barring a few exceptions, I didn’t see many people discuss whether or not the International Cricket Council (ICC) should follow suit. So, in what follows, I expound on the idea of Nickelodeonesque broadcast of cricket. First, I will look at whether the NFL’s move was a success or not. Second, I will outline how the Nickelodeon broadcast worked by breaking down how it differed from the usual broadcast. Third, I will deconstruct if this type of broadcast can materialise for cricket in the same way it did for NFL.
In terms of viewership, the Nickelodeon broadcast of Bears-Saints game was a gargantuan success. Per CBS, as many as 2 million viewers watched the Nickelodeon’s simulcast thus becoming the most-watched program on Nickelodeon in almost a demi-decade. Zoomph, a social media analytics tool, noted that the Nickelodeon stream of the Bears-Saints game generated almost $6 million in social media value. According to them, there were 73,323 tweets related to the topic on the weekend of the broadcast that garnered 402 million impressions and 2.2 million engagements.
More important, however, was the manner in which this broadcast took the world’s leading sports journalists by storm. American sportswriter Richard Deitsch, in his column for The Athletic, wrote that the Nickelodeon broadcast of Bears-Saints “was enormously different and challenging and chaotic and fun”. Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr wrote that the broadcast was a revelation for him and stripping the game of all its self-importance and hubris was an absolute delight.
For those who don’t follow NFL or missed the game, let’s take a look at how the Nickelodeon broadcast was different from the usual one. There were slime cannons sprayed at the player whenever any touchdown was scored, match scores and statistics emblazoned on the field were done in eye-catching colours like bright orange, lime green and purple supplemented with players having googly eyes, hamburger hats and characters like SpongeBob and Patrick Star also popped up on the screen to capture the viewers’ attention. On top of all these, Iain Armitage, who starred as Sheldon Cooper in the CBS sitcom Young Sheldon, was at the helm to explain penalties and other rules of the game in an easy-to-understand manner. Kids, for whom the simulcast was designed for, admired the fun-themed broadcast. Keith Smith, writer at Yahoo Sports, RealGM and CelticsBlog, tweeted that when he asked his daughter about what she likes about the Nickelodeon broadcast, she replied: “They’re explaining it. Like, in a way I can understand it as a kid. And these graphics are cool!”. Former American football quarterback Kurt Warner heaped praise on Nick for the playoff’s simulcast.
“My son loves @Nickelodeon but has never sat and watched a football game with me UNTIL today… I appreciate Nick introducing our kids to the game in a fun & entertaining way!”, he tweeted.
Much to the delight of those who found the simulcast appealing, Sean McManus, CBS Sports chairman, said that they’ll be looking to do similar broadcasts in the future with other Viacom platforms such as MTV, VH1 and BET.
It might seem churlish to say so but when it comes to innovation and being at par with other top sports of the world, the game of cricket is an also-ran. As we saw when the idea of reducing Test matches to four days in order to increase the viewership numbers of Test cricket was tossed around, it invited criticism from a large number of traditionalists notorious for clinging to the age-old archaic rules. For a similar reason, ICC has attempted time and again to get cricket inducted into the Olympics to be at par with the other sports and solve its viewership conundrum but all of its attempts have been in vain.
Although every aspect of this simulcast was amazing but one thing that stood out for me and must be there in cricket is that Young Sheldon part. If you scour through the Marylebone Cricket Club’s (MCC) website, it is tough for a common man to wrap his head around the plethora of rules listed there. Many argue that in the Subcontinent, cricket runs in their blood. However, that is simply watching the game, not completely understanding it. Understanding the game, and I cannot emphasize this enough, is different from simply watching it just like studying a book is different from reading it. To trigger interest in those who do not watch cricket or to ensure that those who watch, their interest does not fade out, ICC needs to inject fun in the game because today’s generation needs fun in everything to escape the worldly chaos and sports is no exception. Also, who (apart from traditionalists) wouldn’t like batsmen or bowlers getting slimed after scoring a hundred or taking a fifer or animated characters popping to explain the situation of the game?