Kids’ Nets Go With the Pros

League, Athlete Partnerships Draw Ratings

Kids’-themed cable networks are improving their standing with male viewers by getting in the huddle with professional sports leagues and athletes.

Shows that combine sports, action-themed animation and live-action shows are a win-win for both the networks, fans and the league, executives with childrens’ programming services said.

On Nov. 19, Disney XD will partner with the National Football League and Atlanta Falcons star Tony Gonzalez to launch a series of interstitials dubbed “Ninja Moves,” to encourage kids to make fun, healthy choices in their lives.

The shorts will help bring attention to both Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja, the current Disney XD animated series, and the ongoing NFL season, Disney XD Worldwide vice president and general manager David Levine said.

“Ninja Moves” follows a successful run of sportsthemed programming on Disney XD that began in August with TRYathlon, a one-hour competition special.

TRYathlon, which teamed kid contestants with such pro athletes as NFL star Arian Foster, the National Basketball Association’s Kevin Love and Women’s National Basketball Association star Candace Parker in a series of physical and endurance challenges, drew 825,000 viewers — a network record for a non-scripted program, according to Levine.

Levine said other shows, like the network’s October special My Life as an NBA Rookie, as well as guest appearances on Disney XD shows by such athletes as NBA star Kyrie Irving (Kickin’ It) and Dwight Howard (Pair of Kings); professional skateboarder Tony Hawk and NASCAR’s Carl Edwards (Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil); and WWE’s Mike ‘The Miz” Mizanin (Pair of Kings) has helped the network draw young male sports fans while building relationships with sports leagues and outlets to develop future programming.

“Boys live sports, and even though we don’t actually air live sports, we have great relationships with the leagues to tap into bring sports to our audience in a fun and engaging way,” Levine said.

The NFL is also on display on Nicktoons, which later this month launches a new half-hour series NFL Rush Zone: Season of the Guardians, featuring pro football stars, Nicktoons, TeenNick and Nick Jr. senior vice president and general manager Keith Dawkins said.

The series, based on the league’s “NFL Rush Zone” online franchise, launched last year as a series of video shorts that portray the exploits of a young fan who fights evil enemies trying to destroy the league and its 32 teams.

NFL players who have lent their images and voices to the series include New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson; Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware; and New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan.

“Sports and sports stars are bigger than ever with kids because it’s everywhere,” Dawkins said. “Kids know so much more about sports today, but they still love the Nickelodeon hit shows, so with this show our audience gets the best of both worlds.”

Kids-targeted networks are also finding ways to include sports personalities into existing series and specials. Nickelodeon has featured such athletes as NBA stars Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony as part of its annual “Worldwide Day of Play” pro-social initiative to get kids active.

Cartoon Network has reached beyond the leagues, teaming with global sports media company IMG Media and national magazine Sports Illustrated for Kids to secure top sports talent for its annual “Hall of Game Awards,” which celebrates the best in sports action as chosen by its viewers.

The second annual telecast this past February — hosted by Shaquille O’Neal — drew 1.2 million viewers and 1 million 2-to-11-year-old boys. That’s up by 74% and 70%, respectively, compared to the award show’s inaugural 2011 telecast.

“The kids really enjoy seeing a different kind of awards shows and the athletes enjoy being honored and interacting with their young fans,” Stuart Snyder, president and chief operating officer of Turner Broadcasting’s Animation, Young Adults and Kids Media, said.