NFL shoots for younger audience with animated 'Toy Story' simulcast

NFL shoots for younger audience with animated ‘Toy Story’ simulcast for Sunday’s Falcons-Jaguars game: ESPN+ and Disney+ will replicate on-field action with digitized characters

  • This is the second time this year ESPN has done an animated alternate broadcast
  • In March, it aired the ‘NHL Big City Greens Classic’ for a Rangers-Capitals game
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The NFL is targeting a younger audience with a new animated simulcast concept based around the Pixar franchise, Toy Story.

Sunday’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars at London’s Wembley Stadium will be contested inside of a digitized version of one character’s room. The ‘Toy Story Funday Football’ telecast will be streamed on ESPN+ and Disney+. ESPN+ also has the main broadcast.

This is the second time this year ESPN has done an animated alternate broadcast using Disney characters. In March, it aired the ‘NHL Big City Greens Classic’ during a game between Washington and New York.

ESPN has been successful with alternate broadcasts of NFL games, including the ‘ManningCast’ during ‘Monday Night Football’ and playoff games.

Tim Reed, the network’s vice president of programming, said the NHL game provided a good baseline and something to build off.

This is the second time this year ESPN has done an animated alternate broadcast

‘We looked at a lot of different concepts and then ultimately targeting ”Toy Story” because it resonates with older generations and kids together. It is also a way to promote and build awareness for the ESPN+ exclusive game,’ he said.

The telecast will be entirely animated, with the players’ movements in sync with what is happening in real time on the field. That’s done through player-tracking data enabled by the NFL’s Next Gen Stats system and Beyond Sports.

Beyond Sports, a company based in the Netherlands, will mostly be responsible for the player animation and making sure the player tracking data works with the animated product. ESPN’s creative services has done more than 100 animations of characters from ‘Toy Story’ that can be woven into the broadcast.

Pixar Animation Studios, which produces the ‘Toy Story’ franchise, worked with ESPN to make sure things don’t stray too far from established storylines.

‘When you’re doing a normal game, you’re documenting it. We’re kind of creating the storyline creating the game as we go here a little bit,’ coordinating producer Drew Gallagher said. ‘It has been a fun, imaginative experience producing this. We are kind of leaning into the cartoon logic of it all, like when the aliens come down from the sky and drop the ball at the line of scrimmage. That’s the fun kind of silliness that we’re leaning into.’

Fans can also expect to see Bo Peep, Bullseye, Forky, Green Aliens and Slinky Dog.

At halftime, Duke Caboom will attempt a motorcycle jump over double-decker buses.

Drew Carter, Booger McFarland and 12-year old Pepper Persley will be the announcers for the game. All three will be fully animated and their body movements viewed through motion-capture technology.

The game will kick off at 9:30am EST on Sunday, but the replay of ‘Toy Story Funday Football’ will be available on Disney+ for 30 days. Globally, over 95 countries will have access to the presentation either live or on replay, including the United Kingdom, Brazil, Mexico and France.

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