A Nickelodeon Super Bowl graphic. (Nickelodeon.) A Nickelodeon Super Bowl graphic. (Nickelodeon.)

This year’s Super Bowl LVIII will see one of the most unusual NFL broadcasts ever aired. In addition to the standard broadcast on CBS, there will be a SpongeBob Squarepants-themed alternate broadcast on their Paramount Global sibling Nickelodeon. That will be complete with alternate reality graphics transforming Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium into SpongeBob’s home of Bikini Bottom.

And this is about more than just visuals. The commentary booth will feature Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke (the voices of SpongeBob Squarepants and Patrick Star for all 25 years of the show to date) in the announcing booth (alongside play-by-play voice Noah Eagle and analyst Nate Burleson). There also will be Sandy Cheeks as a sideline reporter and Larry the Lobster talking to players on the field. And Nickelodeon will have its own dedicated cameras and production truck.

On a pair of media calls Thursday, CBS and Nickelodeon figures discussed the plans for this alternate broadcast. CBS Sports chair Sean McManus previously spoke in August about Paramount Global seeing Nickelodeon as “an added and incremental audience as opposed to an audience that’s being taken away from CBS” for this Super Bowl. And he said Thursday that’s been reinforced in the preparations for this, and in the reception to the Nickelodeon broadcasts so far, particularly the Nickmas Christmas Day one this year.

“I feel really good about it. I think it broadens the reach of the Super Bowl. I’ve heard so many people say, and this is anecdotal, but I’ve heard so many people say to me ‘This is the first time I’ve ever watched football with my young son and/or daughter.’ So I think it’s just additive. And when we roll up the numbers for how many people are consuming the Super Bowl, we’ll include Nickelodeon in those numbers.”

McManus said earlier on that call the Nickelodeon broadcast reinforces the way the company is approaching this Super Bowl, which includes extensive on-location coverage from a variety of CBS news and entertainment shows in addition to programming on FAST channel CBS Sports HQ (and even the involvement of some of the CBS Sports Golazo team). It also comes after a week of Nickelodeon NFL programming, including a NFL Slimetime Super Bowl preview Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET and a NFL Slimetime at Super Bowl special Sunday morning at 11:30 a.m. ET (with Nate Burleson, Young Dylan, Dylan Schefter, and Mia Burleson).

“This year’s Super Bowl will touch every part of Paramount Global, whether it’s CBS or Nickelodeon where we’re doing the alternate telecast, CBS News, our talk shows, syndicated programming like ET, Paramount+, and Pluto TV also,” McManus said. “This is not just a CBS project.”

But McManus said he sees the Nickelodeon broadcast in particular as a great way to get kids excited about football.

“I think it’s nothing but positive. The vast majority of people are still going to watch the traditional broadcast on CBS. But listen, if we can convert young people into being young fans because they get to watch a really cool alternate telecast, everybody benefits, including the NFL.”

And while there was talk in August about some of the ad challenges for Nickelodeon (which can’t air advertising in certain adult-focused categories), and some discussion in early January that Nickelodeon ad sales were seeing low demand (and that some buyers seemed confused on what brands that bought CBS were doing for Nickelodeon), last week saw Nickelodeon’s inventory reportedly sell out. And McManus confirmed that Thursday.

“I’m happy to report today that we are officially sold out for both the game on CBS and the Nickelodeon side-by-side. We’re sold out, generating hundreds of millions of dollars. So from a business standpoint, it’s a good time to be at Paramount Global and CBS Sports.”

And he said the looks he’s had at the Nickelodeon production so far reinforce how remarkable this will be.

“I’ve seen some of the augmented reality and the graphics that are being done, and it’s going to blow everybody away, it just is. They’ve kind of transformed Allegiant Stadium into Bikini Bottom, which is, as I think most people know, where Patrick and SpongeBob and others live. I think it’s just great. It’s one more way to expose the NFL to more and more fans across the country.”

This is McManus’ final Super Bowl at the CBS Sports helm, as he’s set to retire in April, with long-time CBS executive David Berson set to succeed him. His comments here led to a funny line of  “Not sure who had on their bingo card that in Sean’s final Super Bowl media call he’d be talking about where SpongeBob lives,” and that led to an amusing exchange with analyst Tony Romo, who said “I never expected Sean to use Bikini Bottom during this conversation.” McManus responded “A long time ago, I was very happy to find out that Bikini Bottom was a location and not an article of clothing,” and Romo said “I just found out as well because you taught me.”

In terms of actually bringing the game to Bikini Bottom (again, a well-established place featured on television for 25 years at this point, not a swimsuit), Jennifer Bryson (Nickelodeon’s vice-president, production, tentpoles, events and music and specials) spoke on a production call earlier Thursday, and said the full-stadium augmented reality approach here is a new level for Nickelodeon.

“Every year, we like to build upon what we’re doing. As you saw in the NickMas game, we added elements around the stadium that were in the style of the Turtles and Christmas. And for this one, we are bringing the entire game down to Bikini Bottom, so while all the action on the field will remain the real players and the plays and everything going on, everything around this field will be Bikini Bottom. So we’re expanding that, the AR graphics that were just little accoutrements, if you will, at NickMas, and we’re doing the entire stadium.

“It’s going to look different and more vibrant than we’ve ever done before. We’re bringing in animated characters, we’ll have SpongeBob and Patrick in the booth, we’ll also have some characters on the field, whether it’s sideline reporters or Larry the Lobster. So we’re just adding more and more elements to each game, and this one will have more AR than we’ve ever done. And it’s really just a nod to the SpongeBob world, and we wanted to make it as authentic as we could, bringing the game down to Bikini Bottom.”

The Nickelodeon Super Bowl booth.
The Nickelodeon Super Bowl booth. (Nickelodeon.)

Doing that took some work. For three games this season (one in October, one in November, and one in the last week of the regular season), both the CBS Sports and Nickelodeon teams ran several tests at Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium. Jason Cohen, CBS Sports’ vice-president of remote technological operations, said those were crucial to understanding how the AR technology used here would interact with that particular stadium.

“It was just testing the stadium and understanding what Allegiant does to AR graphics, taking every advantage of that for both the CBS side and the Nickelodeon side.”

And Bryson said the repeated tests were crucial to getting this right.

“We’re actually taking the Super Bowl to Bikini Bottom, so for us, it was very important to have the stadium and have the tests to see how the environmental graphics worked at Allegiant. So that’s why we went back three times, to try and perfect those elements and make sure that we’re ready for the game.”

Shawn Robbins, the coordinating producer of Super Bowl LVIII on Nickelodeon for CBS Sports, said one particularly notable AR feature here will come in the commentary booth, where Kenny and Fagerbakke will be there alongside Eagle and Burleson, but show up on the broadcast as animated figures.

“We’re putting the AR world mixed right in there with the real world. We have a booth that will be located in section 101 of the stadium that we’re really using as a studio, and in that studio will be SpongeBob and Patrick played by the actors who play them in the series, Tom and Bill, along with Noah Eagle and Nate Burleson. They’ll be side-by-side in the booth.

“What our viewers will see is the animated AR characters live right by Noah and Nate. And it will appear that our stage and our booth is right across the field from Jim and Tony’s booth, so although we’re in section 101 working away, it’s going to appear to our viewers that we have the best seat in the house right across the 50-yard line there. So that’s all the full-on stage setup there, full AR capabilities mixed with greenscreen capabilities.”

Read on for more on the SpongeBob elements of this broadcast, how this all works from a production standpoint, and what CBS and Nickelodeon can take from this going forward.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.