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WFNZ: A Tentpole Of Sports Talk In The South

“No matter the lineup, what has really been the key to the evolution of WFNZ is the progress of Charlotte as a sports town, particularly the Carolina Panthers’ fanbase.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Sports talk radio is a largely regional thing. Sure, there are as many stations that carry the format in Boston as there are in Nashville, but those stations don’t sound the same. The hosts talk about different topics and they do it in different ways.

There are a few tent poles of sports talk radio in the South. No one covers SEC football more or better than WJOX in Birmingham. If you want big, gregarious Southern personalities, you tune into 1010XL in Jacksonville. At the forefront of it all in the region is WFNZ in Charlotte.

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Sports content first showed up on the 610 AM frequency in Charlotte in 1992. The station was even one of the first employers of a young Michelle Tafoya, who went by Mickey Conley on air.

According to former program director DJ Stout, it wasn’t until Mike Kellog moved from Boston to take over as the station’s GM that “things got real.” Kellog came from WEEI and used some of the strategies that made that station legendary to launch the new sound of sports talk in Charlotte.

“Charlotte gravitated to it quickly,” Stout remembers. He also noted that the city’s sports culture was exploding at the time. “We had an NFL team everyone was super excited about, the Hornets were selling out every night and college hoops and football have always been huge here so we all felt that it was the right time for a real sports station and we were right.”

“It was the perfect time where sports talk radio was the hot new thing and Charlotte didn’t really have it,” recalls SiriusXM’s Mark Packer, who’s radio career started at WFNZ.

Packer remains an influential name in sports talk to this day. His afternoon show at WFNZ, Primetime With The Pack Man, put the station on the map and on the preset buttons of every sports fan in the Queen City.

The show was a ratings juggernaut for the station for years. Part of the reason for that success was Packer’s unwillingness to stick to sports. Primetime became the go to place for anyone with something cool to promote in Charlotte.

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“We never knew who the guests were going to be,” he says. “When President Carter was stuck in traffic and called to say ‘Listen, I’m in town to promote a book and I turned on the radio to hear you talking about the Atlanta Braves,’ well then all of the sudden out of the blue you get the former President of the United States talking Atlanta Braves baseball.”

Packer also notes that part of the success came from a station-wide attitude that everything was competition. WFNZ was not going to let being the new kid in town give it any sort of disadvantage.

“We took a lot of pride, I think, in knowing that at that time newspapers were still very important. The Charlotte Observer had a lock on things, and we took the approach that we were the ones that you were going to get your sports news from, not anybody else. We took this broad approach that this was the place to be to find out what was going on with the Panthers or the Hornets or ACC hoops and football.”

The station and Mark Packer divorced in 2010, but his influence was felt long after he left. His former executive producer and sidekick Tony “Hitman” DiGiacomo (who is now WFNZ’s PD) and comedian The QCB both stayed with the station for the launch of the next afternoon show, which featured Taylor Zarzour (now with SiriusXM and the SEC Network) and Marc James (now with WEEI and NESN). The name Primetime returned to afternoons when Zarzour and James left and were replaced by Chris Kroeger.

One of the signature elements of Packer’s show “The Whiner Line,” which allowed listeners to leave a message ripping whatever they wanted, was in use for years after his departure. The carryover never bothered Stout. “I decided to keep the Whiner Line because it did so well for us and was always sponsored. The rest of the cast did a great job so we kept Tony and QCB on the show as well and they fit in great. The show kicked butt over the next 3 years and did great in the ratings. Not an easy task replacing Primetime With The Packman which I think is the best show we ever had on WFNZ and we have had some damn good shows.”

For Packer though, trying to keep elements of his show in place without the full show still on the station never made much sense.

“I was flattered, but I thought it was stupid,” he said. He is complimentary of Zarzour, James, and Kroeger and says that asking them to include elements of his show wasn’t playing to their strengths. “It’s like saying ‘hey Coca-Cola, why don’t you come up with a new formula!’ How did that work? I was flattered but what we did was ours. That’s not an ego thing. It worked because we had a unique cast of characters that loved the work. You can’t reconstruct that.”

Losing Packer came on the heels of losing another staple at WFNZ. “It was 2009 Gary and 2010 Packer” says current morning co-host Travis “T-Bone” Hancock in reference to Gary Williams, who is now on The Golf Channel.

“It was weird,” adds Hancock’s partner Chris McClain. “Two real established bookends, Gary Williams in the morning, who has since gone on to the Golf Channel and is doing great stuff. Then Mark Packer in the afternoons, who is also doing well and did awesome stuff for our station. We were kinda the newbies and trying to make our way. We were in a great lineup where we had protection and were never seeing fastballs, and then all of the sudden man, you blinked an eye and we were some of the veterans at the station.”

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According to T-Bone, suddenly becoming the station veterans and eventually moving into morning drive meant that their show had to evolve to meet the needs of its new audience and time slot.

“We had to go right up to the line and even cross it sometimes back then in order to establish ourselves, because we knew what Gary and Jim (Celania, who retired in 2016) were. We knew what Packer was. We had to get attention for ourselves, so you look back at what we did then and think ‘wow, how did we get away with that?’. It was a different world then, but we had to push the envelope a little bit more.”

No matter the lineup, what has really been the key to the evolution of WFNZ is the evolution of Charlotte as a sports town, particularly the Carolina Panthers’ fanbase. Former afternoon host Frank Garcia said a lot has changed since he was playing for the team in its infancy and most people in Charlotte didn’t even consider the new hometown team to be their favorite in the NFL.

“That used to be the big thing. ‘I’m a Cowboys fan, but I root for the Panthers.’ Now it’s ‘I’m a Panthers fan!’ The guys that were listening to the radio back then, the ones that are saying they are Panthers fans are their kids.”

In Hancock’s eyes, there’s one player that can be credited with creating that passion. “I think when Cam Newton got drafted, that took the fan base to a whole other level because he’s so controversial,” he says. “He’s always such a topic and the fans are going to defend him.”

Taylor Zarzour, who took over afternoons from Packer agrees with Hancock and said that he knew the third day that he and Marc James were on air together at WFNZ that something major was happening.

“Andrew Luck decided to stay at Stanford instead of being selected first overall by the Panthers. I have no doubt the team would have taken him, and while he would have thrived here, he wouldn’t have changed the daily conversation. Cam did and still does. If we talked about the NCAA Tournament, the Hornets, or college football we still had loaded lines about Cam. At all times of the year.

“When I started I wondered if the city would be more interested in Duke and North Carolina or college football than the Panthers. Everything else became an afterthought as soon as Cam became an option with the first pick. That was eight years ago and nothing has changed. He still drives the conversation around here.”

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Garcia notes that Cam Newton isn’t the only thing that WFNZ listeners are passionate about. Remember, they had a hometown NBA team long before the NFL came to North Carolina, and despite never seeing a consistent winner, Garcia says the city of Charlotte still loves pro basketball.

“The Hornets haven’t had that success. The Bobcats were a disaster. But that’s how life goes. You have to fail and fall on your face miserably before you really succeed. We’ve done that quite a bit as a basketball town. This city is really hungry for a winning basketball team.”

As for what comes next, Garcia’s former partner and current WFNZ afternoon host Kyle Bailey says the city is capable of supporting more pro teams.

“New Panthers owner David Tepper has made it clear he wants an MLS Team in Charlotte. He has the money to make it happen and he’s single-handedly put Charlotte back in the mix for an MLS franchise. So I think professional soccer is more likely to happen first, but Major League Baseball makes a ton of sense too. I think MLB will be in Charlotte eventually. Not having a franchise between DC and Atlanta hasn’t made sense for a long time, and Charlotte makes a ton of sense if MLB wants a greater presence in the Southeast.”

Whatever comes next for Charlotte in the sports world, the WFNZ team feels like they are in the best position to handle it. The station was launched by CBS Radio. It was then acquired by Beasley Broadcasting in 2014. In 2016, it became property of current owner Entercom, and according to DiGiacomo, things have never been better in terms of corporate support.

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“The transition to Entercom has been great for us, because what we have now that we didn’t have with Beasley or even CBS is a company that believes in sports talk radio and our ability to make a greater impact.”

That belief has shown itself in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that both major local sports properties call Entercom stations their flagship. The Hornets are on WFNZ. The Panthers are on sister station WBT. Vice president and Charlotte market manager Matt Hanlon says that kind of presence is key to WFNZ’s ability to own the ears and minds of local sports fans.

“WFNZ is known as the dominant sports influencer in Charlotte,” Hanlon said in an email. “Tony and the staff at WFNZ understand that responsibility and absolutely embrace what they do. The connection with the community is authentic and continues to grow and make a difference.”

DiGiacomo notes that part of that responsibility is being honest with the audience. He doesn’t want his staff to feel like they have to be a cheer squad 365 days a year.

“Yeah we have the Hornets contract and we have the Panthers contract at our sister station but you don’t have to kiss their ass.” He says that he wants his staff to do three things whenever they open the mic. “Entertain, challenge, and engage. And I need you to be fair. If you’re going to take a stance on the Hornets be fair about it, be consistent about it, and just don’t make it personal.”

That kind of honesty and consistency is what has allowed WFNZ’s newest additions, Nick Wilson and Josh Parcell, to cut through in mid days. Wilson, a Cleveland native, doesn’t mind that since his arrival in August, he has been painted by some listeners as the voice of the city’s transplants. “I think it’s important to acknowledge that I haven’t lived here and then slowly earn those Charlotte bona fides.”

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Parcell hasn’t always been the most popular personality on the station, in part because of his criticism of Cam Newton. That hasn’t made him doubt his positions or his style though.

“Something I told Tony and our bosses was ‘you’re going to get what I think every single day,’” says Parcell. “It may not always be right, but I’m not afraid to give my opinion on a topic no matter how controversial it is. I’m going to be informed about it, but I’m not going to hold anything back as long as I believe what I’m saying and have the evidence to support it.”

Bailey, who just signed a contract extension with Entercom, says that whether it is opinions, comedy, or interviews, what has set WFNZ apart is the ability to cut through and remain relevant even as the number of content choices grows.

“Millennials and Gen-Zers crave content so the consumers are there” shares Bailey. “Just like making delicious food is a baseline requirement for opening a restaurant in a city full of great restaurants, making good content is the minimum requirement to compete in the sports content space with other outlets who pump out good content. How do you stand apart? Because radio, television, print, podcast, etc. are all the same now. We’re all digital content companies fighting for downloads, views, and clicks. How digestible is your content? Are you saying something that matters? Because young people care. Young people also have limited attention spans. Can you cut through the noise and tell a story they want to hear? Can you hold their attention for longer than your competitor? The days of brand loyalty aren’t over, but legacy media can no longer take consumers for granted and the competition for attention is fierce.”

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Competition isn’t really something WFNZ has ever really had to think too hard about in the terrestrial radio space. 730 AM carries both the ESPN Radio brand and Charlotte sports radio legend Gerry Vaillancourt. 1660 AM broadcasts a direct feed from Fox Sports Radio aside from one hour of local programming on the weekends. Neither has been able to significantly cut into WFNZ’s audience and they aren’t the first to have tried.

“I think Sports is a big commitment to make if you’re going to be local and relevant,” Hanlon says when asked why he thinks no competitor has had real staying power. “WFNZ is all of that and enjoys the equity of 26 years in format.”

As for DiGiacomo, he says not having a successful competitor in the sports format has brought a different, more unique challenge that makes his job more fun. “While I welcome the competition, I would much rather compete against a music station. With Charlotte being such a music-focused town, it’s cool to be the big dog in town in this format and to challenge yourself to find another ratings point by innovating and being mass appeal going up against something completely different.”

“The cool thing about what took place in the beginning of FNZ was that the city caught fire,” Packer says. The station caught fire right along with it. That noteworthiness attracted the kind of attention that lead to hosts leaving WFNZ to pursue opportunities in bigger markets, national networks, national television, and in the play-by-play world.

Nick Wilson says he never really considered what it would be like to call himself a North Carolinian until the opportunity to come to this particular station presented itself. “So much of the allure of this was the WFNZ brand. I’m a bit of a radio nerd, so I’ve listened to several of the lineups that they’ve had here.”

Hanlon isn’t so much worried about WFNZ’s reputation with radio nerds. He says the kind of influence and acclaim that wins praise from that community will come as long as the station continues to super serve its local audience. “As Charlotte continues to grow and diversify, the interest in professional and big league college sports continues to grow with it. We’re committed to leading that conversation.”

BSM Writers

790 The Ticket Was Something Special And Stugotz Knows It

“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen, that they’ve ever heard.”

Demetri Ravanos

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When I was making the transition from the rock world to talk radio, there was one show I looked at as a guide. I got laid off from 96 Rock in Raleigh, NC in the summer of 2011. That was the beginning of my flirtations with streaming and podcasts, which is how I stumbled onto The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on 790 The Ticket out of Miami.

Coming from a format that I felt out of place in at times, I instantly latched onto a show that reveled in pointing out how out of place it was in its own format. It became a daily listen for me, which opened me up to hearing other voices on the station like Jonathan Zaslow, Joy Taylor, Brian London, Brendan Tobin, Brett Romberg and others.

There were unique thinkers and passionate sports fans in every day part on 790 The Ticket. What set the station apart though is that I never heard anyone that sounded uncomfortable when the conversation turned to something that wasn’t a Dolphins’ loss or LeBron’s stat line. They talked sports the way normal human beings talk about sports. It was part of their lives, not the only thing they paid attention to.

Look at the outpouring of love for the station on Thursday. Hosts, producers and programmers from across the country took to social media to eulogize the station when the news broke that it would cease to exist the following week.

I can’t say for sure that all of those people felt the same way I did about the station and I cannot say whether or not it was for the same reasons. What I can say is 790 The Ticket had an influence that stretched far beyond South Florida.

Jon Weiner, better known as “Stugotz” to fans of the The Dan Le Batard Show, helped start the station in 2004. He told me that it didn’t take long for him to learn just how much The Ticket’s approach was making an impression on everyone in sports radio.

“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen or heard,” he said in a phone call on Sunday. “I had people from out of market who had secure jobs at places that weren’t startups sending resumes and tapes because they wanted to be part of it. So yeah, we were aware and it is what we were going for. We got there pretty quickly and we were aware of the impact, not just in South Florida, but throughout the country.”

Last week, Brian “The Beast” London said his internal alarm bells first went off when he heard the Miami Heat were giving up their relationship with 790 the Ticket. The station and the team had been partners since 2008. He said in a YouTube video that it was hard to imagine the team’s games being heard anywhere else.

I asked Stugotz if he had the same feeling when he heard that news. He said in hindsight, he realized it was the beginning of the end, but he didn’t really get a sense something was up until Jonathan Zaslow was let go.

“[Zaslow] had been there since basically day one with us. And so I just kind of figured, yeah, between the Heat and then that I felt, okay, you don’t make a move like that unless there’s going to be some sort of seismic change. Otherwise, there’d be no reason to let him go. That was the moment I was like ‘okay, 790 is likely going away.'”

His feelings are no secret. He took to social media immediately on Thursday and said that the news that 790 The Ticket would soon be going away filled him with both sadness and pride. What Stugotz told me in our phone call was that he realizes that the station lasted about 15 years longer than it should have.

When the station was sold to Lincoln Financial Media, he was not expecting that company to want to keep a sports station. Senior Vice President Dennis Collins surprised him.

“The company saw so much potential in what we had built, both from a lineup and a sales perspective that they kept it going and that’s why it lasted all the way to 2022. We got it up and going and were responsible for the first three or four years, but Dennis saw the growth potential with the lineup we put together. That made me feel great because I had a pit in my stomach like ‘Oh, man, this thing we started is going to go away. It’s going to be three, four years and gone.’ And he said, ‘No, we love it. We want to keep it going’. So that was a huge compliment to everyone.”

Stugotz described the original owner of 790 The Ticket as a “young, good looking real estate mogul driving around in Lamborghinis.” That certainly helped the image of the station when it launched, but it is also a phenomenon that was very of the moment. It’s not 2004 anymore. Lamborghini-owning real estate moguls aren’t chomping at the bit to pour money into radio stations.

The conditions may be similar to what Stugotz and his partners saw in 2004. You could look at the radio landscape in Miami and see a way that a new challenger could fit in the sports radio scene. But what are the chances it actually happens?

It’s a great question,” Stugotz said. “So just to go back to that time, two sports radio stations were popping up in every market. I’m not certain if that’s still the case anymore just because of podcasting and the way the way younger people are consuming media through Tik Tok, Snapchat, and other things that aren’t AM radio.”

He is quick to commend Audacy, the current owners of the 790 AM frequency. Dan Le Batard and Jorge Sedano were part of his early lineups at 790 The Ticket because Stugotz recognized the Cuban-American community in Miami was not being served in the sports space in 2004, just like it isn’t being properly served in the news/talk space right now. That’s why there’s room for the conservative-leaning brand Radio Libre in Miami and other markets are likely paying attention.

“It seems like a good plan, and I know it’s something that the Spanish population should have and deserves to have and probably was not being catered to correctly. So, yeah, I could see there’s a warning sign to some other sports radio stations or news stations in other markets where the Hispanic population is great. Absolutely!”

It is a shame that 790 The Ticket is no more and it is concerning that a station with its legacy and influence can simply disappear. But if we are being real, it isn’t the first station of its kind to suffer that fate and it won’t be the last.

As the media business changes and leaves sports stations vulnerable to something cheaper and with broader appeal, 790 The Ticket and stations like it should be touted as examples of how to rise above the noise and make an impact. Stugotz and his partners looked around in 2004 and said “we can be different and we can do this better” and that’s exactly what they did.

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Chris Simms And His Self-Professed ‘Big Mouth’ Enjoying Life At NBC

“One of the things that I worried about was that I came from Bleacher Report and is NBC going to try to curtail my personality a little bit…sometimes I like to swear on my podcast and do stuff like that and they’ve really allowed me to be me which I really appreciate.”

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To be a good football analyst, one certainly has to know and love the sport but you also can’t be afraid to use the most important tool that you have to do the job. Chris Simms has all of those attributes and NBC lets him use them to the best of his abilities.

“I love football and I love X’s and O’s and I got a big mouth so it’s a great combination,” said Simms. “Between my podcast, Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio, and Sunday Night Football, I get plenty of time to talk and get my studies out there.”

There’s no doubt that Chris inherited that self-professed big mouth from his father, former NFL quarterback and longtime NFL on CBS analyst, Phil Simms.

So, the question had to be asked…does Chris have a bigger mouth than his father?

“Yeah, I probably do,” admitted the younger Simms. “That’s a big mouth to overcome, but I think I probably got him beat in that department.”

Chris Simms set out to follow in his father’s footsteps on the field and played quarterback for Ramapo High School in New Jersey where he earned a pair of All-State honors. After graduating high school in 1999, Simms moved on to play quarterback at the University of Texas where he posted a 26-6 career record as a starter and was the team MVP during his senior season in 2002.

Simms was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft and he would guide the Bucs to a playoff berth in 2005.  He would also go on to play for the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos completing a seven-year NFL playing career. He spent one season as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots before taking his talents to the world of broadcasting.

He started with FOX Sports as a college football announcer in 2013 and then joined Bleacher Report in 2014 while also serving as a color commentator for the NFL on CBS.

And then in 2017, Simms joined NBC Sports where he has certainly found a home.

“I couldn’t be happier,” said Simms. “It’s a great company to work for. Just good people all around. They’ve given me the platform to be me. One of the things that I worried about was that I came from Bleacher Report and is NBC going to try to curtail my personality a little bit…sometimes I like to swear on my podcast and do stuff like that and they’ve really allowed me to be me which I really appreciate.”

Simms wears many different suits at NBC Sports, most notably his role as a studio analyst on Football Night in America leading into Sunday Night Football. He’s also a part of the SNF post-game show Sunday Night Football Final on Peacock, Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio, and Chris Simms Unbuttoned, a streaming/digital show that is also a podcast multiple days a week.

But the most eyeballs are on him during Football Night in America, the most watched studio show in sports.

“I grew up wanting to play in these games more than be the guy in the studio but this is like the second-best thing,” said Simms. “I was kind of that kid at 4 or 5 (years old) who could tell you every player in the NFL, their number and all that type of stuff. It’s the NFL on the biggest stage. It’s such a well-done show. I get to be there with Maria Taylor along with Tony Dungy, and Jason Garrett, and Mike Florio, and Matthew Berry. We got a great team and it makes Sunday fun.”

From the “it takes one to know one” category, Simms has also made a name for himself with his ranking of NFL quarterbacks. He’s very diligent when it comes to watching the live action and also in his film study and his top-40 rankings have become a hot topic within the business and around the office coolers.

Simms is well aware that his rankings have become a lightning rod of discussion.

“It all kind of started organically just because I would make statements,” said Simms. “People were like ‘Why don’t you start making a list?’ It’s a really hard thing to do. It offends a lot of people and I hate that. I root for all of these guys and I say on my podcast all the time I hope this guy proves me wrong. I hope he shits on me and shows me that I was wrong. It’s certainly not personal. One of the things I pride myself on is studying and immersing myself in the game all of the time.”

Simms became a full-time employee of NBC Sports in 2019, but his first role with the network came in 2017 when he became a studio analyst for Notre Dame Football.

Here’s a kid that grew up in North Jersey where there’s a ton of Notre Dame alumni and he’s standing on the sidelines at South Bend as part of Fighting Irish telecasts.

“Another special entity,” said Simms. “I used to get chills being out on the field every Saturday there. It gave me great experience in a different way with the halftime show and the pre-game show. One of the years I was kind of the third man in the booth but I was on the sideline. It gave me some reps on in-game stuff as well. I think most importantly what that did for me more than anything is that it opened up more eyes at NBC about me.”

And now Simms’ work has him in the discussion for a new potential opportunity down the road. 

NBC, alongside FOX and CBS, has secured a seven-year media rights deal with the Big Ten Conference that will commence next season. NBC will air Big Ten Saturday Night, the first time that Big Ten Football will have a dedicated primetime broadcast on a national broadcast network. Peacock will stream an additional eight Big Ten games each season and NBC/Peacock will air the 2026 Big Ten Championship Game.

There have been rumblings that Simms could be involved in the coverage. Is he interested?

“I’m intrigued by it,” admitted Simms. “I’m very all NFL right now but broadcasting game is fun. It’s definitely something on my radar for sure. I do have some producers here in the building that are like ‘I’m going to tell the boss I want you to do some of the Big 10 games this year and what do you think about announcing?’ I’ve already had some people in my ear talking about it. It’s awesome for the company regardless. It just expands our football world. As far as me being involved, we’ll see.” 

In a relatively short amount of time, Chris Simms has built up quite the broadcasting portfolio. From FOX to Bleacher Report and CBS to his current expanded role with NBC, Simms has established himself as one of the premier NFL analysts in the business and his podcast has given him the freedom to do something that he loves to do. Including putting his money where his mouth is. 

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The Pat McAfee Alternate Broadcast Presents Unique Challenges

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Alternate broadcasts are all the rage these days, and ESPN, in conjunction with Omaha Productions, debuted a new one this weekend as The Pat McAfee Show aired an alternate broadcast of the Clemson and North Carolina State game Saturday evening.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Manningcast copy-cats were destined for failure. And while I don’t believe McAfee’s debut was a failure by any stretch of the imagination, I couldn’t help but notice it brings its own set of challenges.

First and foremost, College Football Primetime with The Pat McAfee Show — the world’s most convoluted way to say “The McAfeecast” — doesn’t really resemble the Manningcast. And rightfully so. I’m not sure there are two more polar opposite sports media brands than the Mannings and McAfee. The Mannings are funny, but not too funny and never “blue”, while often concerned about how finely quaffed their hair looks and whether the button-down shirt color matches with the Nordstrom quarter-zip they’ve donned. Meanwhile, McAfee wears his black tank-top, like usual, and put his best Pittsburgh-ese foot forward.

Even though the Mannings and McAfee are opposites doesn’t mean they can’t work together, however. The alternate broadcast was a win for Manning, a win for McAfee, a win for ESPN, and a win for viewers.

People love Pat McAfee. Plain and simple. For a multitude of reasons that we can get into in a later story, but let’s focus on that for a moment. It was a big portion of my column a few weeks ago. The Manningcast works because people like Peyton and Eli. The KayRodcast doesn’t work because people hate Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez. It’s honestly, truly, that simple.

I think it benefitted the McAfeecast to debut with a smaller game, which seems counterintuitive because it was a matchup of top ten teams in primetime. But let’s be realistic, a number five versus number ten ACC game doesn’t hold the same weight as a number five versus number ten Big Ten or SEC game. And it helped McAfee and crew, because there are obvious kinks to work out.

Firstly, there are entirely too many people on the screen. I’m going to have nice words to say about BostonConnr than the eight-and-a-half-year-old that went viral earlier this summer, but god love ya, your time to shine likely isn’t on primetime on ESPN. In my opinion, for the McAfeecast to really work in the future, a similar setup to the Manningcast with McAfee and A.J. Hawk being the prominent figures on screen is the best solution to the problem. I know McAfee believes in his boys. It’s one of his more endearing qualities, and is frankly part of the reason his show is so successful. But you’re reaching a different audience on ESPN2 on Saturday nights, and the reason the either tuned in or will stay is because of McAfee’s presence.

I didn’t get a great feel for McAfee’s thoughts or reactions on the game simply because you didn’t get a closeup of his face. The best moments of the Manningcast, outside of Eli flipping the double birds or Peyton saying “I can’t hear shit”, have been when the pair have been absolutely disgusted by a decision made by a coach or player and their face shows it without any words following up their reactions. And McAfee definitely holds that ability, and I wish I would have gotten a better sense of his facial reactions on-screen.

Also, and I know this is something McAfee can’t actually control, he had to be a bit more reserved on cable television. Part of the allure of The Pat McAfee Show is the — let’s call it extreme candor — with which he speaks. I believe that’s the scholarly way to write “he says f*** frequently”. And believe me, I subscribe to the theory that the FCC should allow hosts the ability to say obscenities 15 times per week, so I’m down for McAfee’s swearing. But you’re just simply never going to get that on ESPN2. You’re likely never going to get that if the broadcast aired on ESPN+, either. For a “family friendly” company Disney, those cards are just flat out never going to be on the table for McAfee.

One of the things McAfee is known for is his boundless energy, which felt lacking at times on Saturday, but it’s understandable. The man was on College GameDay earlier in the day, flew back to the studio to do the alternate broadcast after travelling the day before to get to Clemson to be on GameDay. I’m sure that takes a toll. On top of that, you’re doing something new for the first time, while trying to, essentially, heard cats on the screen, and you can be a little wiped out by the end of the night.

However, the goodwill McAfee has bought with fans over his extreme generosity was on display as the alternate broadcast donated more than $100,000 to Dabo Swinney’s charity, The Jimmy V Foundation, and the American Red Cross. It was a brilliant move for a debut broadcast, because it acts as a slight shield for criticism. How can you complain about something that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity?

The alternate broadcast, for the most part, avoided the biggest problem I have with the Manningcast. The interviews. I’ve never been watching Monday Night Football, or the Manningcast for that matter, and thought “Man, I wish they were talking to Tracy Morgan right now!” McAfee brought on Peyton Manning, for obvious reasons, and former NC State quarterback Phillip Rivers. That’s it. They didn’t rely on guests to carry them through down periods. The eight folks on screen did most of the heavy lifting, and for that, I thank them.

The McAfeecast was certainly different than any other alternate broadcast I’ve consumed. The crew shooting hoops for extra donations to charity during stoppages of play definitely kept things light and interesting. I couldn’t help but be invested in whether or not someone would bury three out of five threes during an injury timeout for more money for charity.

Speaking of injury timeouts, McAfee planned a giveaway and told fans to use a certain hashtag and when to screenshot or take a picture of their TV. Immediately following him saying “now!”, an injured player appeared on the screen, and he instantly shouted “No! Not now! No! We don’t want that, and we hope he’s ok”. It was a light-hearted, nearly hilarious moment that brought levity to the situation.

The highlight of the cast, however, was — in true McAfee style — picking up on things other broadcasters wouldn’t, like an angry fan. The entire crew shouting at the same time in this specific moment was spectacular television.

Overall, I thought the McAfeecast got off on the right foot. There is undeniably a market for an alternate broadcast based around the former NFL punter’s personality, and I look forward to seeing where the show goes from here.

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