The House of Mouse is ready to strike back.
Disney is exploring it’s own kids-focused NFL telecast to rival ViacomCBS’ slime-filled presentation of last season’s NFC Wild Card Playoff game, said sources.
Similar to the recently renewed partnership between CBS Sports and Nickelodeon for the 2021 NFL season, ESPN would likely team up with another sister Disney company to produce a children-targeted “Monday Night Football” or Wild Card Playoff game telecast.
“Look, Disney invented kids entertainment,” one source told FOS. “They’ve had to sit back watching Nickelodeon and CBS pound their chests all year. Well, Disney thinks they can do it better when it comes to reaching kids and families.”
Disney has an array of companies that could be employed for such a telecast, ranging from Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm to the Disney Channel and Pixar.
The Marvel universe alone boasts comic book heroes ranging from Spider-Man, Thor, and Captain America to the Black Panther and Black Widow.
Disney and the NFL declined to comment.
But one model for Disney’s NFL KidCast could be ESPN2/ESPN+’s Marvel-inspired telecast of an NBA game on May 3.
During the alternate presentation of the Golden State Warriors-New Orleans Pelicans game, Disney rolled out Marvel characters Black Panther, Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow, complete with 3D virtual characters, animation, and custom graphics.
The kid-friendly theme for the telecast was that Marvel’s “Avengers” were trying to “recruit” Earth’s greatest athletes such as Steph Curry of the Warriors and Zion Williamson of the Pelicans.
It would be easy to see ESPN/Marvel swapping in NFL “superheroes” like Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens and Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys for a similarly themed NFL presentation. Besides “MNF,” ESPN will also telecast a 2022 Wild Card Playoff game this season as well as the annual Pro Bowl.
Disney’s plans are not finalized, and the NFL would have to approve. Brian Rolapp, the league’s chief media and business officer, has made it clear to TV partners that he’s open to MegaCasts, or alternate presentations, of the same game or event.
CBS and Nickelodeon drew critical acclaim for their youthful telecast of an NFL Wild Card Game between the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints on Jan. 10. Complete with virtual slime cannons celebrating touchdowns, ESPN senior writer Tim Keown called it “the most fun NFL broadcast of the year.”
This week, ESPN raised the bar with Peyton Manning and Eli Manning’s “ManningCast” of “Monday Night Football,” which drew 800,000 viewers on ESPN2. ESPN also offered streaming viewers a data and odds-focused presentation dubbed “Between the Lines” on ESPN+. In total, five Disney-owned networks televised Week 1 of “MNF.”
Including Week 1, ESPN’s sister Disney broadcast network ABC will simulcast select games this season. ABC’s schedule includes simulcasts of “MNF” in Weeks 14 and 15, plus a doubleheader in Week 18. ABC will also simulcast ESPN’s presentations of the Wild Card Game and Pro Bowl.
Disney has been putting its stamp on “MNF.” ESPN premiered a “Star Wars”-inspired opening to “MNF” last season, with actor Giancarlo Esposito of “The Mandalorian,” welcoming viewers to “Mando Night Football.” The entertainment giant also worked the Muppets into another “MNF” opening, with Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy in the broadcast booth and Fozzie Bear reporting from the field.
During the NFL playoffs, Disney has simulcasted ESPN’s Wild Card Game presentation on Freeform, the former Family Channel which targets teens and young adults. Several years ago, ESPN’s parent company used a MegaCast of the NFL Draft (with different presentations on ESPN and ABC) to fend off a challenge from Fox Sports for TV rights to the closely watched and popular event.
The stakes are high for networks and their corporate parents.
The league’s national TV partners — ESPN, CBS, NBC Sports, and Fox Sports — are constantly jockeying for most-favored nation status with the NFL. Ditto for their billion-dollar corporate parents, like Disney, ViacomCBS, and NBCUniversal.
Disney has been a league favorite, winning back NFL Draft rights from Fox and finally entering the Super Bowl rotation after the 2026 and 2030 seasons. But ViacomCBS has been spiking the ball over the success of “NFL on Nickelodeon.” And Disney faces an uphill battle trying to take the “King of Kids” mantle away from the 42-year old network.
Capitalizing on its Emmy Award-winning Wild Card Game telecast, Nickelodeon is planning another kids-focused telecast for Jan. 16 that will air alongside CBS’ traditional Wild Card Game coverage.
To raise the ante further, Nickelodeon just announced a new weekly series, “NFL Slimetime,” hosted by Nate Burleson of CBS and Nickelodeon star Young Dylan. Premiering Sept. 15, it will also feature ESPN Insider Adam Schefter’s daughter Dylan Schefter as a teen correspondent.
Nickelodeon’s Wild Card Game telecast on Jan. 10 drew nearly 2 million TV viewers — and generated another 2 billion impressions on social media. It ranked as Nickelodeon’s most-watched show in nearly four years and was the No. 1 cable telecast of the week for kids aged 2-11 and 6-11 years old.
“Nickelodeon’s unique presentation of last year’s Wild Card Game was a success, and we look forward to another playoff broadcast this year and a new weekly show for families to enjoy,” said Hans Schroeder, executive vice president and chief operating officer of NFL Media.
Disney’s stock closed at $182.40 on Tuesday, down 1.4%. ViacomCBS’s stock closed at $38.92, down 3%.