NFL’s Glitchy Toy Story Broadcast Was a Smash Hit!

Oct 1, 2023; London, United Kingdom; Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Pederson (left) shakes hands with Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith after an NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

What a morning it was in Andy’s Room with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Atlanta Falcons! It was nearly impossible to avoid its existence as we turned the corner into Week #4 of the NFL season, but did you know that this morning’s game from London was simulcast in the Toy Story universe? It’s possible that you missed it, as it wasn’t meant for all NFL fans. In fact, I’d argue that it wasn’t for NFL fans at all.

NFL’s Glitchy Toy Story Broadcast Was a Smash Hit!

The CGI simulcast set in the world of Pixar’s Toy Story was almost certainly the brainchild of a group of NFL staffers focused on outreach and the league’s future. Like all major entertainment and media companies, you see, the NFL faces a consumption problem. As more households “cut the cord” and more generations grow up with the world “on-demand,” traditional broadcast methods are not bringing in the same audiences they once did. We’ve seen the NFL attack this shift with creative partnerships aligning with Amazon Prime for Thursday Night Football, with YouTube for NFL RedZone, and they’re constantly adjusting their visual presentations on the screen to prepare for the day when sports gambling is legal in all 50 states.

But what about the next generation of NFL fans?

In the past few seasons, the league has partnered with Nickelodeon for NFL Slimetime Live, a kid-centric broadcast of NFL games with Nickelodeon graphics and “slime” on the screen, featuring a more entertaining slate of broadcasters focused on the younger audience. It’s been fun and a successful venture, so much so that the upcoming Super Bowl will be simulcast on Nickelodeon for the first time.

But this weekend in Andy’s room was different.

The concept here aligns with ESPN/Disney to broadcast a CGI simulcast of Sunday morning’s game in London LIVE on Disney+ and themed after Pixar’s smash hit franchise Toy Story.

Glitchy Toy
Oct 1, 2023; London, United Kingdom: A fan in fancy dress seen during the second half of an NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

Admittedly, the broadcast was glitchy and got off to a rough start, with the ball-tracking technology providing some interesting visuals and the play-by-play cam shutting down early in the first quarter. But when they got it going again, the possibility was realized thanks to a signature juke from rookie running back Bijan Robinson.

Watching the side-by-side real-life and Toy Story replays of Bijan juking a defender out of his socks or Trevor Lawrence avoiding a sack and fleeing the pocket showcased the power of the technology once it’s fully fine-tuned.

Realizing the possibilities with this sort of simulcast, I lowered the veil of judgment I found myself watching under and began having fun with it. My 8-year-old son by my side, we watched the sky cam being operated by the aliens and “the clawwwww,” we laughed as Slinky Dog adjusted the length of his outstretched slinky functioning as the marker and chains for first downs, and we awaited the promoted half-time show featuring a never before seen feat attempted by Duke Caboom! The broadcast team of Drew Cater, Booger McFarland, and Pepper Persley spoke to the younger audience, finding moments to step down and explain the gameplay happening on the field. Commercial breaks weren’t filled with adult-themed commercials but rather football trivia that further explained the history and methods of the game.

It was in this moment that I realized this was the most “real” football action that my kids have really been interested in for longer than five-minute periods. I even caught our five-year-old peeking over his coloring sheet to enjoy the fun antics of the familiar, favorite characters.

Oct 1, 2023; London, United Kingdom; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) carries the ball during the second half of an NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

It connected with them. It resonated with their minds. It spoke their language. It was magical, truly.

While the broadcast received mixed reviews across social media, I’d chalk it up as a smash success. Sure, there is room to improve. The technology is new and will only get better. But talk to parents out there who took the journey into Andy’s Room Sunday with their kids, this clicked. Just see HERE, and HERE and HERE and HERE! I could go on and on enjoying these photos and videos of kids enjoying Funday Football.

Sitting in a house littered with Toy Story figures, Halloween Costumes, and Lego sets, I had high hopes for this venture. But to see the care and thoughtfulness that the teams at the NFL and Disney put into it, I was even more pleasantly surprised!

And it’s okay if you and your family still prefer to watch the actual broadcast. This isn’t for you. This is a bridge. It’s a bridge to a new generation and a new type of fan that, before this morning, was not in the NFL fold at all. Thousands of little kids and future NFL fans crossed that bridge on Sunday, and that alone makes the glitchy test broadcast from a fictional character’s bedroom just a gigantic smash success!