The Los Angeles Clippers and Bally Sports West are leaning into the kids-centric simulcast craze, prepping a special sidecar telecast of tonight’s Game 5 playoff clash with the Mavs that’s being touted as the first such event to air on a regional sports network.
The “Clippers Kids Cast” production will feature animated graphics designed to amplify dunks, treys, steals and other key plays, all of which will be overlaid on the action in real time. Calling the game for Bally Sports West are Clippers radio voice Noah Eagle, Bally Sports analyst Corey Maggette and Pepper Persley, who will call her first NBA playoff game at the ripe old age of 10.
Fans outside the L.A. area may recall Eagle from his work on Nickelodeon’s slime-slicked simulcast of CBS’ Jan. 10 NFC Wild Card Game. The 24-year-old earned high marks (and a whole lot of praise from the hard-to-please Sports Twitter crowd) with his coverage of that Bears-Saints clash, especially as it pertained to his ability to explain the rules of the game to the SpongeBob-besotted audience, while keeping things moving for the more seasoned viewers watching alongside the kids.
The facility with which Eagle wove back and forth between the higher and lower registers was strangely reminiscent of the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, which regularly pitched jokes that sailed over the heads of the footy-pajamas set, thereby rewarding the patience of the adults in the room. He said he’ll aim for a similar dynamic with tonight’s simulcast.
“The biggest challenge, as it pertained to the Nickelodeon game, was that you’re obviously never going to appeal to 100% of that particular audience 100% of the time,” Eagle said. “You’re meant to captivate a new audience while doing everything you can not to alienate everyone else. And that’s the trick, really: You want to make sure that anyone who’s watching feels invited.”
Eagle is currently negotiating a renewal of his Clippers contract. Prior to signing on with the team in 2019, he called Syracuse basketball, football and lacrosse games on SU’s WAER, where he also served as sports director. Eagle began covering Orange hoops in 2015-16, and the start of his broadcast career coincided with Syracuse’s last Final Four season.
While tonight’s simulcast marks Eagle’s second foray into a more kid-focused presentation, he’s not necessarily looking to stake out a franchise as Gen Alpha’s Marv Albert. That said, the enhancement of the fan experience via augmented reality and other data-driven features is a top priority for Clippers owner Steve Ballmer. (The former Microsoft CEO is an investor in Second Spectrum, the video analytics platform that powers the team’s CourtVision app, which allows viewers to toggle between the analytics-drenched “Coach” mode and a “Mascot” setting that lends an NBA Jam veneer to live basketball.)
“The beauty of the augmented-reality platform is that it allows for all sorts of enhancements to the game,” Eagle said. “It’s not just about looking to expand the audience with a kids-cast; the possibilities for gambling and sponsorships are endless.”
Not that the streams will cross during tonight’s simulcast. Introducing pre-teens to the intricacies of the point spread is obviously not something any sane person would endorse, but once real-time streaming becomes a reality, the machine learning used to spruce up the Mavs-Clips game should present a compelling value-add for anyone looking to get involved with in-game wagering.
While the Kids Cast concept has been brewing for some time, the plan from the very beginning was to target Game 5. Having started the series in a 0-2 hole, however, the Clippers were two more losses from putting the kibosh on the entire project. The Clippers are heading back to the Staples Center as 7.5-point favorites, and while Eagle said his tone will likely change a bit as the game progresses—especially if things are tight down the stretch—the animated bells and whistles aren’t going to subside even in the fourth quarter, nor even in the event of a nail-biter.
Fans who prefer an unadulterated viewing experience can default to the Clips’ home RSN, Bally Sports SoCal. Locally, the team averaged a 0.62 rating, which marked an 11% improvement versus the 2019-20 NBA season (0.56). At that time, the RSN flew the Fox Sports Prime Ticket banner.
The Kids Cast marks the latest attempt to expand the NBA’s fan base via alternative game coverage. In May, Disney took corporate synergy about as far as it could go with an Avengers-themed Warriors-Pelicans simulcast that integrated characters from the Marvel subsidiary throughout a secondary production carried by ESPN2 and ESPN+. Fans who preferred their basketball uncluttered by the likes of Iron Man and Doctor Strange had the option of tuning into the standard telecast on the ESPN flagship. This was the more popular choice; per Nielsen, the vanilla ESPN feed averaged 1.12 million viewers, while 274,000 went with the cape-and-cowl option on ESPN2. (ESPN+ deliveries are not available, as the streaming service is not measured by Nielsen.)
Disney followed up on its Marvel mashup with a Star Wars-based MLB production that aired the very next day. (May the Fourth, because… nerds.) Unlike previous niche-friendly efforts, fans weren’t given an alternative to ESPN’s Astros-Yankees cosplay, which featured Karl Ravech dressed up like Luke Skywalker, Tim Kurkjian in Yoda garb and Eduardo Pérez doing his bit to rep the Jawas. The telecast drew 740,000 viewers, up 47% versus the 503,000 ESPN averaged with its four previous Tuesday Night Baseball telecasts.
As for Nickelodeon’s spin on that Bears-Saints playoff, the telecast scared up 2.06 million viewers, or 6.7% of the total combined audience of 30.7 million.
Clippers president of business operations Gillian Zucker said the Kids Cast initiative isn’t merely an attempt to boost the team’s local ad rates. “We’ve taken this step … not for a ratings bump or even because it’s cool, but because we think this innovation on a regional, team level will push our industry forward,” Zucker said. “This is the future of broadcasting.”