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FalCon4 Shows Audience’s Devotion To Morning Men

“Every year I can confidently say we have more people and I think that will continue next year. Hopefully they give us another one, but we will have more people again”

Brandon Contes

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If FALCon and the relationship Morning Men has with its listeners can be summed up in 3,000 words, this would be it.

Every weekday, from 6 – 10am ET on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Radio, Evan Cohen and Mike Babchik provide listeners with a sports talk radio show growing in popularity and an entertainment value that goes beyond sports. Morning Men is nothing like the show Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo creates in the afternoon, it’s probably nothing like a show Russo would have picked to listen to.

When Steve Phillips left the channel’s morning show for MLB Radio five years ago, the decision could have been made to fill the void with someone who can continue the classic sports talk model. Instead, producer, Mike Babchik went from being a third voice and sidekick, to the star of the show.

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While many incumbent radio hosts wouldn’t be comfortable allowing a drastic change to the scope of their show, Evan Cohen became part of the transition and let Morning Men take on a life of its own. In doing so, the show also took on the personality of Babchik, even drawing out a side of Evan he didn’t know he had.

That’s what Morning Men is. It uses sports talk as an avenue for people to be open, to share vulnerabilities and laugh at the things maybe you’re not supposed to laugh at. The show will test limits, even during their live broadcast. Playing beer pong in a speedo, the “Babkini” and a beer chugging contest all while “Larry Long Balls” and “The Sheriff” are in town, isn’t something most radio stations push in the year 2019.

The fans and listeners embrace everything about Morning Men in a way that few national shows achieve. If you’re a first time listener, you want to learn the inside lingo and what it means to be a “FAL.” If you’re a longtime listener, you want to hear every minute so you don’t miss out on something that could be discussed at FALCon 5 next year.

So much emphasis in radio is put on ratings, subscribers and streaming numbers, but maybe witnessing a raucously supportive crowd travel the country to attend a party should also be considered a measurement of success.  

FALCon 4 was my first Morning Men event, but it wasn’t my first time watching a radio show conduct a remote broadcast. My expectations were that of watching a normal two-hour live broadcast, but FALCon is less about seeing the show and more about the fans and listeners celebrating being part of the show.

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At the end of their two-hour broadcast during FALCon, I was able to speak to Evan, Babchik and Steve Torre about the event. First up was Mad Dog Radio’s longest tenured morning host, Evan Cohen.

BC: It’s really amazing that you have this feeling that surrounds a national show, that you’ve built this community that wants to get together, travels to get here. Everyone knows the inside jokes and they gather to talk about it and create friendships over it.

Evan Cohen: Yeah and we appreciate it. Give credit to our bosses, Steve Cohen and Steve Torre for allowing us to do this because we knew we couldn’t be the regular sports show and really stand out. We had to be different and our way of being different is trying to be even more inclusive of the fans and making them the show. One of the sales people from Sirius came to this last year and said it feels like you’ve done national, local and I thought that was a great way of putting it.

BC: You were on this show doing more traditional sports talk when it was you and Steve Phillips. How has the transition been in getting to where the show is now?

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Evan Cohen: This show is all of our shows, but it reflects Babchik’s personality more than anything and maybe a side of mine and Andrew’s personality that we didn’t know we had until Babchik brought it out of us.

BC: Was there any concern about Bachik going from producer to full-time co-host, knowing how different he was going to make the show?

Evan Cohen: No, this is what we wanted because he’s the kind of guy that will say and do anything that others won’t, but also will say the things you’re thinking and he actually says them out loud and it’s not a shtick, it’s who he really is. The internal support is amazing, the fact that everyone from SiriusXM is here is great.

BC: Having management here to play beer pong with Babchik and watch him dancing around in a speedo is definitely a different kind of support.

Evan Cohen: It’s something I didn’t initially expect, but winning over our own team was so important and understanding that this is different from what a national sports show is supposed to be, but that’s what we needed it to be. The best part about this, if I’m going to say one single thing about this event, is all of the people you just saw, come here to see each other. This show has created a family for our listeners to be together with each other which is a wonderful thing for us.

BC: Does this event fire you up and motivate you when you see the turnout and feel this energy?

Evan Cohen: It’s unbelievable, honestly. Every year I can confidently say we have more people and I think that will continue next year. Hopefully they give us another one, but we will have more people again. I also give Dog a lot of credit for this because we’ve discussed it and he doesn’t want to come here and steal our thunder. But we’ve been saying, number five he has to come. Our fans, FALs and us, we’ve made it and now we can bring him into it.

BC: How about the support the show gets from Chris Russo specifically? There’s a lot of back and forth between the shows – you guys make fun of him a lot – it’s something maybe not every super star radio host would be okay with.

Evan Cohen: Amazing. This morning, he calls me to wish me luck, sends me motivational texts and then records all the ins and outs for the show. We want him to be a part of our show. The biggest thing that ever happened to us was him realizing he actually enjoys us making fun of him. His wife, who is wonderful, she loves it too and she’s even given us material for it, but that’s just the kind of guy he is.

BC: Did Russo’s motivational texts inspire you to want to talk about baseball for two hours today?

Evan Cohen: No, they made me want to read them on-air and make fun of him, [Laughs] because that’s what he would want, but it means something when you have this person that I grew up idolizing and still do, cares as much as he does.

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BC: And he cares about this show and event which is so far and away different from anything he’s done, but he recognizes it’s working and creating its own following and sees that as something beneficial to the channel.

Evan Cohen: Absolutely, and that’s important for us because without his support, I don’t know that we could do this. It’s also Steve Torre, Steve Cohen, Danny Kanell, the support is amazing and everyone in this room is friends with each other now, which is crazy because how could they even know each other? This show brings people together and they’re friends for life. It’s amazing.

It wasn’t hard for me to spot Babchik in the middle of the room, standing on a table, donning a speedo still 30 minutes after the show ended, but getting him away from the crowd to ask him a few questions was the more difficult task.

BC: You’re obviously a shy person, were you nervous in front of everyone today?

Mike Babchik: No, you get this strange calmness that takes over you. [Laughs] Maybe it’s being in a room full of people that love you. When you have all these people that fly in and love the show, they love Evan and Babs, you feel like you can do anything. I don’t know if I would get naked and wear a speedo in front of people that weren’t fans.

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BC: You lost the beer chugging contest to Kanell today, but you did beat Joey Chestnut in a matzah eating contest not too long ago, which was more important to you?

Mike Babchik: The win! Forget the loss! I drank too much last night so it tainted this beer chugging thing, but Joey Chestnut legitimately lost to me. Without a doubt, I won. I crushed him! I picked the right thing and ate more matzah than he could. It’s one of the greatest achievements of my life.

BC: How awesome is it to have this crowd, as a national show to bring all these people together from all over the country into this bar and have them as fired up to be part of the show and talk about the show as they are?

Mike Babchik: That’s what it’s all about. It really is a community of fans and listeners, it’s more about their friendships. They want to get together and they do it through this show. Now people have friends all over the country, it’s crazy to think that someone from New York can now have a friend in Wyoming, but because of this show we’re able to bring a lot of people together.

BC: There are people that actually met here today for the first time, but they share inside jokes and their favorite segments and that’s the beauty of radio, that it can bring people together like this and fans become not only a consumer of the show, but they’re actually part of the show.

Mike Babchik: It’s incredible, the show just took over. It was organic and people felt comfortable enough with their own vulnerabilities to make it work. They get together and communicate with each other through the show and on social media and to have an event so they can all meet is just a great thing.

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BC: You started out as a producer on a normal sports talk show, now, not only are you the co-host, but the show has taken on your personality and transitioned from a traditional sports talk show to what it is now.

Mike Babchik: The evolution is amazing. I got lucky, but give so much credit to Steve Cohen, to Steve Torre and to Evan who really had a vision for this. It’s a different type of show. Not a lot of people thought it would take off, but the bosses had faith, Evan had faith. That’s what it’s all about and here we are a couple years later, filling places up in New York City.

Lastly, the program director, midday host and Mad Dog Radio originator, Steve Torre gave a few thoughts on the channel’s morning show and FALCon 4

BC: For a national show to have this type of turnout at an event like this on a random Saturday, people have traveled from all over the country – Syracuse, Maryland, Texas, California even Canada – fans are flying in to turn this two hour broadcast into a vacation, it’s unprecedented.

Steve Torre: I’m 55 years old, I’ve been in radio for a long time, NY radio for 20 years and I attended various events for the station and the parent company and we would have big numbers, people would have a connection to the talent – but it’s mind-boggling to me that we have the amount of people that we do here, traveling on their own dime and flying in from various parts of the country.

I was talking to someone who flew in from Wyoming and took two flights to get here and it kind of hits home that we have that type of connection with the audience. That they’re putting in that much time and effort to get here for a two hour event – it blows my mind, but it’s a sense of satisfaction that we’ve achieved something that’s rare, where it’s a national show, but it has a local feel.

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BC: Three hundred people at a bar in New York isn’t that crazy, but no one is here by accident, every single person here knows the inside jokes and can share their favorite segments with the person next to them and that’s what Stern was so great at building with a national show. Building a community of listeners that couldn’t afford to miss a show because they didn’t want to lose out on an inside joke. And if they didn’t know about something, it’s even more important to listen so they can figure out what they’re not in on.

Steve Torre: Sometimes from a national perspective for programming, if you’re listening to the show for the first time and you’re not really aware of the inside jokes, you’re wondering how you can draw in another audience.

If somebody is listening for the first time at 7:30 on a Thursday morning and they’re wondering, ‘what’s a FAL?’ you’re hoping through the strength of the content that they’ll stick around to learn. They’ve developed ‘Morning Men tell a friend’ which has grown the audience, but you worry that there are too many inside things for a new audience. But with the numbers today and the connections you see they have with people, it makes you realize that’s not the case because this event keeps growing.

BC: How about Babchik stepping in a few years ago from being the producer, and give Evan credit, because the show is totally different from when he started, but he allowed it to take on the personality of Babchik.

Steve Torre: When Chris Russo and I first started developing this channel, we had a blueprint of what works for talk radio and not that it was horrendous, but we had to make mistakes to really figure out what works. With this show particularly, it took us a longer time to find our groove and establish ourselves. When you’re doing something nationally, where your parent company already has ESPN, Fox Sports and several sports entities, you want to do something different to catch the listeners ear, and Evan had the wherewithal to understand how important Mike’s contribution was.

Just talking to Mike off the air, I could tell he had an ear for what was relatable to people. He’s the everyday guy and he follows sports, but why does he need to be an expert? He’s like your buddy you’re talking to at the bar or on the phone. We realized Mike’s just a regular guy, he might not be an expert X’s and O’s wise, but he knows sports and can relate to people.

BC: It’s more about entertainment than knowing baseball analytics.

Steve Torre: Entertainment, personality and there is room for X’s and O’s and following an important story. Not to bring anything negative into this, but we served a purpose during the Jerry Sandusky scandal and we were able to have some levity. I would describe this show as entertaining and being relatable to people. You can see the connection these people have with the show and it’s satisfying to see the type of impact it’s made.

BC: How about Russo supporting the show and his willingness to allow Mike and Evan to make fun of him as much as they do, but still seeing it as a benefit for the show and station?

Steve Torre: It’s a great point and it speaks to him about how comfortable he is that he can just sit back and take a beating because he does. Probably 50, 60 percent of what they play back for entertainment value is a result of what we call ‘Dog-isms’ – some of his faux pas, mispronunciations and botching of the English language. They’re exposing him and making him look like what some people would perceive as a complete fool, but he embraces it because he knows he’s Doggie.

He’s reached a certain status. I don’t know if he would’ve done this 20 years ago, but trust me when I tell you, on and off the air, he supports them. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t know that. They know he supports what they do and it makes them comfortable that he’s not going to get defensive or be offended. There are times that they come to me with a bit and ask if I think Russo’s going to be okay with it. We’ll run it by him and every time he says, ‘of course, what are you kidding?’  That’s a very important part of it.

BC: And it’s great to have that cross-promotion between shows on the channel.

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Steve Torre: I’ve been trying to go around and talk to a lot of people here to show appreciation and most of them tell me what they love so much is the fact that we have a great connection and the shows all crossover. My partner Danny Kanell is here today, Dog isn’t here, but it’s because he doesn’t want to take away from their day. Even though Mike and Evan are immensely popular and people are here for them, if Dog walks in, it steers some attention away and he genuinely doesn’t want to do that to them.

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

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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