In a somewhat strange but ultimately intriguing programming decision, The Walt Disney Company and some of its most famous intellectual property took over the National Football League (NFL). Modern-day Disney seemingly finds a way to put itself into almost every major method of entertainment, and America’s most-watched sport proves to be no different. Today, October 1st, the NFL willingly teamed up with ESPN and parent company Disney for a curios event called Toy Story Funday Football.
Touted as a “first-of-its-kind presentation,” Disney Plus, ESPN+, and the NFL+ app invited fans of magic and football into Andy’s bedroom, where the beloved characters of Pixar Animation Studios’ Toy Story universe were set up for an entire NFL game day. So…bear with me now…little toy versions of the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars played against each other on Andy’s carpet, below his dresser, with alphabet blocks as goalposts.
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While the actual game took place at Wembley Stadium in London, Disney broadcasted real time action and replays of what was really occurring in the NFL International Series game. “Enabled by the NFL’s Next Gen Stats player tracking data and Beyond Sports,” the digital motion capture tracking technology created a seriously impressive alternate telecast that showed players’ movements instantly, from tackles to victory dances. I had to keep asking myself, “What is happening??”
Slinky Dog measured the distance to the first down on every play, NFL announcers Drew Carter and Booger McFarland played their part (effortlessly commenting on the conditions of Andy’s room), and Bo Peep’s sheep caused some havoc on the sidelines. The Alien Cam, operated from the infamous “The Claw,” offered an aerial view of the gameplay. The Claw animation was also used to reset the ball for every play.
My favorite thing about Toy Story Funday Football so far is The Claw being used to spot the football.— Ashley Carter (@AshleyLCarter1) October 1, 2023
Commercial breaks were replaced with NFL and Toy Story franchise trivia, as well as prerecorded interviews with Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars coaches and players commenting on the Toy Story-themed offering! Pepper Persley, the sideline reporter, even interviewed Mr. Spell! Non-gameplay elements featured Woody and Jessie “cowboy two-stepping” near the endzone, Buzz Lightyear popping his wings and running around, and Bunny (from Toy Story 4) watching over all the penalty flags.
There was even a special Halftime Show featuring a daredevil motorcycle jump from the daring Duke Caboom (from Toy Story 4)! I don’t know what the point of “Zurg Vision” really was, but I still enjoyed the appearance of the Galactic Alliance villain. Players were literally interviewed about if they were nervous about coming across Emporer Zurg. Again, I thought, “What is even happening??”
The reasoning behind this whole Toy Story Funday Football thing was, of course, marketing. Senior Director of ESPN Creative Studio, Michael “Spike” Szykowny, spoke on The Walt Disney Company’s website about appealing to an older crowd as well as a younger audience. He said,
Alternative broadcasts are a great way for audience expansion. The world has changed a lot, and people have a lot of different things going on. Traditional sports games are still super compelling, but how do you reach the casual fan?
I’m not so sure something like this will necessarily catch on and occur on a regular basis. But it certainly is a fun way to bring families together and make each other’s interests more accessible across generations.
Did you catch any of the Toy Story Funday Football broadcast? Which silly Toy Story universe details were your favorite?
…Was it when the Pizza Planet truck was loose on the sideline? Because “WHAT is happening??”