Super Bowl LVIII is poised to be a historic event for any number of reasons, but the oddest may be the meeting of Patrick Mahomes and Patrick Star in the augmented reality of Nickelodeon’s alternate broadcast of the biggest night in sports. The Super Bowl broadcast from Bikini Bottom is the culmination of a multi-year partnership between the NFL, CBS, and Nickelodeon that has sought to bring playoff football to Nick's audience of kids and vice versa, and by the looks of things, that plan is far from over.
If this season of NFL football has taught us anything, it's that the audience for pro football is as wide as it gets. From the dads barking at the screen to the Swifties tuning in to Chiefs games see what Taylor and her entourage are sporting in the luxury box as they cheer on Travis Kelce, to the fuming men who get so angry at said Swifties getting catered to. It makes all the sense in the world that Nickelodeon would want to make use of their corporate partnership with CBS (both are under the Paramount Global umbrella) to bring their audience of kids to the NFL brand.
For the past four seasons, Nickelodeon has broadcast a select NFL game, tricking it up with animation and augmented reality to deliver a very loud, very busy, but undeniably memorable viewing experience. The first Nickelodeon simulcast was the 2021 Wild Card playoff game between the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints. That game was something of a snooze, which made it the perfect canvas for Nickelodeon's experiment. Former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson and Nick star Gabrielle Nevaeh joined CBS's Noah Eagle on the broadcast. Slime cannons appeared to douse touchdown scorers in the signature Nickelodeon green slime (these were all animated overlays), while after the game, Saints coach Sean Payton got slimed for real. It was very silly but very fun, especially since it existed on Nickelodeon, safely away from any easily annoyed sports fan who didn't need Spongebob doing sideline reports.
Nick has continued to broadcast one NFL game a year ever since. In 2022, it was another playoff game, this time between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. Last year, it was a Christmas Day game between the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos. The guest commentary by Nick stars got more iconic (Patrick Star absolutely roasted Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson for an interception) as the on-screen augmented reality experiments got weirder (Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield got picked up by a giant claw and moved across the field).
The goofier things got on the broadcasts, the more they seemed to justify the marketing ploy of their existence. If you're going to promote your violent, concussion-prone game to kids, being this unhinged about it is the least Nickelodeon could do. Santa Claus lined up as a wide receiver on a Rams scoring play — that's how unhinged.
Wild Card games and the odd Christmas Day interception-fest were one thing, but the Super Bowl was quite another. And yet on August 1, 2023, CBS announced it would simulcast the Super Bowl on both CBS and Nickelodeon. "We didn't anticipate this," Nickelodeon's EVP of Unscripted and Digital Studio, Ashley Kaplan tells Primetimer. "But obviously it is a welcome opportunity and a next step in our partnership."
Seeing the need to take a step up from mere slime cannons, Nick producers instead put the entire Las Vegas-set Super Bowl into the underwater environs of Bikini Bottom for the special Sponge/bob Squarepants Super Bowl of some stoner's dreams (and/or nightmares).
"At Nick, we always strive to meet kids where they are and give them something magical," Kaplan says, and I suppose this qualifies. It's a sign of how far Nickelodeon has come as a brand that I'm not sure I can envision what a Nick-partnered Super Bowl might have looked like when I was in that network's target demographic. A Rugrats-themed Super Bowl where Tommy and Chuckie toddled across the field while Angelica filed sideline reports? An Are You Afraid of the Dark? halftime show?
The Super Bowl has long since passed the point where it's an event for sports fans. It's one of the last true pop culture meccas, where everyone tends to drop by to see what all the fuss is about this year. Celebrity, music, commercials, current events — it all comes together in a mishmash at the Super Bowl. So, while it's no longer notable that Super Bowl might contort itself to fit into the field of interest of Nick-watching kids and tweens, Nickelodeon getting the point of pride of an entire alternative telecast is a pretty big deal.
Where does Nick go from here in terms of sports partnerships? After all, CBS and its affiliated networks also cover the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament, a.k.a. March Madness? And wouldn't a brand extension like this benefit from a partnership with women's sports as well? "We are absolutely looking for the next opportunity to do that," Kaplan says. "We're in talks, but nothing is solidified or concrete yet. Nothing at the moment to announce." We'll just be here waiting in somewhat rabid anticipation to see how Squidward fills out his March Madness bracket.
Super Bowl LVIII will be simulcast on Nickelodeon on Sunday, February 11th at 6:30 PM ET.
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.