Virtual slime cannons bursting into life following a touchdown, and SpongeBob SquarePants’ gleeful face appearing between the posts are not depictions of a vivid dream. Rather, they are a result of Nickelodeon’s partnership with the NFL that saw the channel broadcast the Super Wild Card Weekend game between Chicago Bears vs. New Orleans Saints earlier this month.
For the purist a little bit of an eye-opener, but for its intended audience a fun, engaging and educational introduction to the NFL. At a time when professional sports are competing not just with each other, but also other forms of entertainment, it requires moments of innovation and inspiration to win new eyes. Particularly suited to an American audience that places great value on the entertainment aspect of sport, would the same approach have a similar affirmative reaction from a European audience?
It’s no secret that American sport – particularly the NFL, NHL and NBA – places great importance on producing fan-focussed entertainment. Sometimes it’s not about the outcome of the game, but rather the pre-match tailgate parties and the in-game kiss cams. Search for any list of the best team social media accounts and you’ll be pushed to find many that fall outside of the aforementioned sports. Fun, entertaining and engaging content keeps fans happy and reflects positively on the players and the sport.
But it’s presumptuous and naïve to think that what works for an American audience would directly translate to a European audience. Attempts to convey a similar crowd-pleasing entertainment approach at live events hasn’t always hit the spot. The idea to many football fans of turning up two hours before the game would be deemed a joke, the majority of which are quite happy with their pie and beer 15 mins before kick-off. However, sports that have a predominantly European-based audience would do well to observe closely what the likes of the NFL are doing.
Of course, not all of it will fit or work over here, but the most accessible and observant rights holders are those that might just gain an early advantage in the long run. What the NFL has done with Nickelodeon feels like a bit of a trailblazing moment. The most open-minded sports would do well to watch, learn and carefully consider what aspects of American sport would succeed across the Atlantic. Innovative partnerships that engage younger people seem like a no-brainer, but to do so, you have to be willing to go outside the norm and think like a 10-year-old!
Reece Mowlem, SQN colleague and founder of the UK-based NFL podcast ‘First Down’, is clear on what lessons can be learned from our American counterparts.
“From behind-the-scenes TV series’ shot like Hollywood blockbusters, to 30-minute half time shows featuring the world’s biggest stars, the NFL is more than just a sport, it’s a spectacle.
“In recent times, the league has strived to be as fan-orientated as possible, even altering a handful of officiating rules in an attempt to produce a higher octane on-field product. It is therefore no surprise to see the NFL partner with Nickelodeon to idiomatically showcase the game to a younger audience, cultivating the next generation of football fanatics.
“While some may see it as embarrassing and cringeworthy to integrate cartoons into elite sport, commercially it’s highly intelligent, and an experiment that the decision makers of the global sports industry should surely take note of. I’m not suggesting we dump a bucket of slime on José Mourinho after his next Spurs victory, but I do believe there is much more that European leagues could be doing to engage the younger generation.”
As demonstrated by the NFL, one of the keys to engaging with the younger generation is partnering with those who understand that audience best. If rights holders can see the potential and are willing to have those conversations, then what may seem like a mismatched partnership from the outset could turn out to be a shining light for that sport.
Will the full extent of U.S. fan-focused entertainment feature in European sports? Almost certainly not. Will we move closer to seeing Shaun the Sheep, Pingu or Pikachu pop up during a Champions League football match? Watch this space….