The game between the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday offers TV viewers a choice: You can imagine you’re watching the game from London’s Wembley Stadium on the traditional broadcast, or you can transport to the Tri-County Area — the fictional homeland of Andy from “Toy Story” — to watch the same game in real-time on alternate airwaves.
When the Falcons and Jaguars face off in London, ESPN will debut a “Toy Story”-themed broadcast, a fully animated copy of the real game, happening in Andy’s room. The entirety of the broadcast, including the announcers, graphics and scoreboard, will be on theme, with characters from the movie series appearing throughout.
You may just see Buzz Lightyear flying into the end zone. But, why?
Why ESPN and the NFL are going ‘Toy Story’
“Toy Story Funday Football,” as ESPN is calling it, is the network’s newest attempt to attract younger viewers. As The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch wrote when the network announced the alternate broadcast, “create a fan young and you get his or her money for decades.”
And as “Toy Story” famously reminds us, no one can stop from growing up, so networks hope to grow the next generation of football fans.
To teach the presumed younger audience about football, the alternate broadcast will demonstrate how to throw a perfect spiral and how to make a tackle safely. Falcons and Jaguars players will also make appearances through pre-recorded segments and interviews.
Imaginative and themed broadcasts gained popularity in recent years. In 2022, a playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys that aired on CBS and Nickelodeon — and yes, included plenty of slime — averaged 41.496 million viewers across both networks. It tallied as the most-watched NFL wild-card game on any network in seven years.
Nickelodeon first broadcast an NFL game for a wild-card matchup between the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints on Jan. 10, 2021. It drew an average of 2.06 million viewers, with a total of 30.65 million across CBS and Nickelodeon.
And Nickelodeon’s NFL presence is only growing. The network will broadcast an alternate Super Bowl LVIII telecast on Feb. 11, 2024. Super Bowl LVIII will be CBS and Nickelodeon’s second collaboration this season after Nickelodeon airs the “NFL Nickmas Game” on Christmas Day between the Las Vegas Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs.
Expect Nickelodeon slime for future NFL broadcasts
‘Toy Story’ broadcast elements
The themed broadcast puts a literal twist on the animated announcer. The three broadcasters comprising the booth will call a lively game while also appearing as part of the “Toy Story” universe.
Drew Carter is on play-by-play, Booger McFarland will serve as the analyst and 12-year-old reporter Pepper Persley will be on the call. They’ll appear fully animated using motion-capture technology, according to ESPN.
Carter, McFarland and Persley will be joined in Andy’s bedroom by none other than Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep, Bullseye, Bunny, Ducky, Forky, Green Aliens, Jesse, Rex and Slinky Dog. And at halftime, Duke Caboom — the action figure from “Toy Story 4” — will try to outdo Rihanna’s 2023 Super Bowl halftime performance with a production of his own.
Where to watch
Fans can soon go to infinity, London and beyond, all from the comfort of their couch.
Both the traditional and “Toy Story”-themed broadcasts will be available at 9:30 a.m. ET on Oct. 1 on ESPN+ and on mobile through NFL+. “Toy Story Funday Football” will also be on Disney+.
(Photo: Dan Mullan / Getty Images)