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NFL gets in toon with Nickelodeon

The NFL and Nickelodeon are teaming to co-produce a football-themed cartoon show scheduled to debut in September, linking the two powerful entertainment brands in what is believed to be a first endeavor of its kind in sports.

The show, titled “Rush Zone: Guardians of the Core,” will have a plotline featuring the typical superhero, good-versus-evil themes, with the lead character, named Ishmael, visiting each of the league’s 32 stadiums as part of a quest to save the world. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and New Orleans Saints coach Sean Peyton have already done voice-overs for appearances on the show.

While the NFL has reached out to the girls’ and women’s markets in recent years, this effort returns the league to one of its bases, with the press release due out today touting “Rush Zone” on the “boy-targeted” Nicktoons, the Nickelodeon channel on which the series will air.

“This is new territory for us and new territory for Nick in the sports world,” said Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s vice president of fan strategy and marketing. “They see this as a priority for them heading into the fall to drive new and more-engaged viewers.”

The show builds off of NFL Rush Zone, a role-playing game on kid-focused NFLRush.com that was launched in December 2007 and has more than 2 million registered users.

Hero Ishmael does battle with Blitz Botz (left),
aided by NFL-inspired superheroes.

The TV show will start as two- to five-minute episodes and conclude with a one-hour movie the day before the Super Bowl.

The show’s hero, Ish, is an ordinary 10-year-old boy until he learns that all 32 NFL stadiums serve as secret strongholds of an otherworldly life force that he must guard. An evil villain, named Sudden Death, is determined to find the life forces and end humanity.

Ish is given the physical abilities of an NFL player along with what the show’s developers describe as “a few additional super powers.” He must work with the Rusherz, the NFL superheroes representing all 32 teams, to stop the Blitz Botz, Sudden Death’s robots.

Ish is taught by a mentor named O.T. and guided by NFL players and coaches in his journey.

“We thought it was important to leverage what we bring to the table — we are storytellers and create narrative — [working] with the NFL in terms of its brand,” said Keith Dawkins, Nicktoons general manager and senior vice president of Nickelodeon Programming Partnerships.

Nicktoons is available in 57 million homes.

The show’s production partner is Curious Pictures in New York City.

Currently, there are no efforts to sell ads or sponsorships around the series, and details of any licensing plans were not immediately available. The idea, Dawkins said, was to create the content and build a following and then monetize the show.

Nick is planning significant promotional efforts on and off channel, though the details are not set.

The lead character’s name, Ishmael, does not draw from football — as do most of the other characters’ names — but rather is the name of the young nephew of a writer on the show who died tragically.

No other sports league is believed to have similar show or partnership. The New York Jets several years ago did produce an animated show called “Generation Jets” that aired locally, in the New York market.

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