by Beth Keating
September 30, 2023
I watch football exactly one day a year – and sometimes not even then, if one of my family’s preferred teams hasn’t made it to the Big Game. Yes, Super Bowl Sunday is the only time I park myself in front of the TV to “enjoy” that American pastime known as football. On a typical week, I might supply a few “game day foods,” set them out on the coffee table, then disappear into a different room while the other family members yell at the television screen.
This Sunday, though, I might just be joining the family in front of the TV, though it will be a mite bit early for the usual nachos and mini-hot dogs. At 9:30 a.m. (ET) Sunday morning (October 1, 2023), the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars will be kicking off from London in Week 4 of the NFL season. And while the game will be televised traditionally in its usual form on ESPN+ (as well as local broadcast stations in the markets of the participating teams), it will also show up in a slightly different, alternate format, live on Disney+ and ESPN+ (and on mobile with NFL+).
Dubbed “Toy Story Funday Football,” the alternate game will simultaneously animate the Falcons-Jaguars game from Wembley Stadium in London, using the NFL’s Next Gen Stats player tracking data and motion-capture technology. Instead of seeing the typical green, line-marked football field though, the Toy Story version will be brought to you in real time direct from Andy’s room. (If you’ve been living under a rock – or the nearest bleacher - “Andy’s room” is where the Toy Story characters usually reside in the Disney animated film series, launched in 1995.)
Among the characters appearing in the broadcast will be Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep, Bullseye, Bunny, Ducky, Forky, the Aliens, Jessie, Rex, and Slinky Dog, participating from the sidelines and in “non-gameplay elements.”
The real life football players themselves will appear on screen as animated football figures, and the special “half-time show” will feature Toy Story’s Duke Caboom undertaking a monumental motorcycle jump. While Chris Fowler, Dan Orlovsky, Louis Riddick, and Laura Rutledge will be calling the game from inside the London location for the live game, the Toy Story version of the show will be narrated by its own announcers, with Drew Carter providing the play-by-play, Booger McFarland as analyst, and 12-year old Pepper Persley as a reporter. For family members who, like me, aren’t all that football-savvy, the day will feature educational elements teaching the game of football, including demonstrations with “how to” videos, trivia, and more.
Toy Story Funday Football is a first-of-its-kind NFL alternate presentation. “Fans will view every run, pass, score and all football-related action through state-of-the-art tracking technology,” assures ESPN, for those who might be worried that the Toy Story version might not be taking the game seriously enough, or be accurate in its entirety to the actual Falcons-Jaguars game. In addition, for those die-hard fans watching the animated game, there will also be pre-recorded segments and interviews with the real Falcons and Jaguar players sprinkled into the broadcast.
If you are watching from outside the United States, the special presentation will be available in over 95 markets live and/or in replay, including Brazil, the UK, Mexico and France. Video on Demand will also be available in many markets 24 hours after the live broadcast ends.
This novel NFL collaboration is a venture by ESPN, ESPN’s Edge Innovation Center, Disney, NFL, Pixar, Next Gen Stats, Beyond Sports, and Silver Spoon.
So, who is with me for my second football game of the year? Pretty sure there will be a few football players “falling…with style!”
Beth Keating is a theme parks, restaurant and entertainment reporter for DisneyBizJournal.