The Carolina Panthers have announced their TV broadcast team for the 2021 preseason, which will now consist of three games in lieu of four. Second-year Panthers sideline reporter Kristen Balboni will be joined by longtime North Carolinian broadcaster Taylor Zarzour and former Panthers legend Steve Smith Sr.
“Steve’s one of the greatest Panthers ever, he’s in our Hall of Honor, and this year, he’s up for the Hall of Fame. So we’re obviously thrilled to have him back in the building,” Panthers Owner David Tepper said. “He’s an important part of this team’s history, and of course, a big presence in the community. So connecting him closer to both areas is very exciting.”
Now an analyst on NFL Network, Smith played 13 seasons in Carolina earning four Pro Bowl nods before being released in March 2014 and playing his final three years for the Baltimore Ravens. A fan favorite in the Queen City, Smith made it known his displeasure with the unceremonious exit, though there has since been a change in both ownership and general managers.
“I’m looking forward to talking about these games from a former player’s perspective and why these games are significant,” Smith Sr. said. “For these young men, this is their chance to make the roster. Breaking that down and giving some substance and texture to why that is important, I think sometimes that lacks in game broadcasts. I feel like this is my opportunity to break that down and explain why this is important, and I’ll try to bring that to the table with my unique spin as an analyst.”
Zarzour has lived in North Carolina since 2004, and Charlotte since 2011. He currently serves as a commentator for ESPN’s college football and college baseball games, as well as a radio voice for golf’s majors. Before that, he spent time with various sports radio stations, including 610 WFNZ in Charlotte.
Balboni has worked for both ESPN and FOX Sports, and is entering her second year as the team reporter, covering the team for the Panthers’ website and other digital properties and hosting a variety of Panthers’ programming, according to a release. The broadcasts can be seen on the team’s flagship station WSOC-TV in Charlotte and across the Carolinas on the team’s network of syndicated affiliates.
Adam Schefter Expected To Join Mannings On Monday Night Football
The NFL insider has been with ESPN since 2009.
ESPN executives have nailed down two members of the Manning Monday Night Football Megacast already; now they have to round out the trio. One familiar face has a leg up on one of the hottest jobs in the industry right now.
Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy reports that Adam Schefter is a leading candidate to join Peyton and Eli Manning for their Monday Night Football Megacast, airing ten times this season on ESPN2. Schefter has never been a TV host or play-by-play voice at the company, but sources told McCarthy this isn’t set up as a “down and distance” broadcast.
“It will be like watching ‘Monday Night Football’ with the Mannings and their friends. The win will be how funny and interesting the whole conversation is,” A source said to FOS. “If you want down and distance, that’s on the main broadcast. This should look and feel totally different.”
A source went on to say that the job is pictured “more like Ernie Johnson Jr. — and less like Al Michaels,” with Schefter (or whoever gets the gig) facilitating conversations around the game with the Mannings.
McCarthy confirmed that the brothers have the final say on who will join them in the booth as the hottest job in sports media opens up. Name a big name and they’ve likely already had their agent on the phone to pump them up in Bristol, Conn.
“Everyone wants in. Every agent in town is calling ESPN,” a source said to FOS.
The brothers won’t be on-site for these games. Instead, they’ll pull off all ten broadcasts this season in a looser, remote atmosphere. Schefter could be a strong fit for that type of hybrid role, and the professional timing couldn’t be much better for the NFL insider.
Schefter has been with ESPN since 2009 and signed his current five-year deal back in 2016. He’s a routine news breaker and a valuable asset for ESPN. Dangling the carrot of ten games with the Mannings could spell a fresh deal between Schefter and ESPN. Who is reeling in the Manning Conversations this fall? We’ll find out soon enough.
Liberty Extends ESPN Deal
Liberty and ESPN reached a deal that gives the flames exclusive rights to the Flames’ football games through 2025.
In a state dominated by FBS programs Virginia and Virginia Tech, and FCS power James Madison, Liberty University has needed to be aggressive in order to stay relevant. They hired Scott Jackson, the longtime assistant to the legendary Mike Fox at UNC, to coach their baseball program. The Flames also hired Ritchie McKay, Tony Bennett’s top assistant at UVA, to lead their basketball program. Of course, they famously hired ex-Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze to be their head football coach. Now, they have extended their exclusive media rights deal with ESPN through 2025.
The deal will see all of Liberty’s football games available on an ESPN platform, with a guarantee of at least one game available on a linear station and ESPN has the right to choose a non-traditional gameday to air a second linear broadcast. Liberty’s 12-game schedule is highlighted by a pair of road games at Power Five schools: a September 24 date with Syracuse and a pseudo-homecoming of sorts for Freeze against Ole Miss November 6.
“We are pleased to continue to showcase Liberty home football games exclusively on ESPN platforms in the years ahead through this multi-year extension of our rights agreement which began in 2018. The recent success of the Flames has made them one of the more intriguing programs in college football the past few seasons.” said Dan Margulis, senior director of programming and acquisitions, ESPN.
The move comes during a tumultuous time in college football as Oklahoma and Texas are reportedly nearing a deal to join the SEC. Liberty is currently one of just six FBS independents, along with BYU, UMass, Army, Notre Dame, and New Mexico State. That list is a mixed bag of those who are independent by choice and those who are not.
The Flames will embark on just their fourth season in the FBS this fall, and the smoke surrounding the school’s desire to join the AAC is palpable. Gaining favor with the Worldwide Leader is a good first step for a program that’s always focused on putting one in front of the other as of late.
FOX Sports Puts Up Brewers Billboard Near Wrigley Field
After winning the Ultimate Fan Bracket, Brewers fans will be rewarded with a billboard honoring their victory in Chicago.
Trolling is no longer reserved for the dark, seedy corners of the internet. It is now a tried and true amendment to the fabric of America’s digital culture. Such is the case for Fox Sports as it will have a billboard praising fans of the Milwaukee Brewers put up in Chicago as reward for winning Ultimate Fan Bracket.
The billboard will go up at the corner of LaSalle and Grand, roughly six miles from Wrigley Field. This is not the first time Fox Sports has trolled a home base’s fans as they previously had Bills billboards in Foxborough, Massachusetts and UNC signage in Durham, North Carolina.
While the Cubs’ primary rival resides some four hours south and a little west, the jab from their neighbors 90 minutes north will still sting. That is especially true given the phrase is borrowed from a self-appointed title for Cardinals fans in a city that is wildly proud of their loyalty to the Cubs, who, for over a century, embodied losing.
It’s going to take one heckuva cup snake to get that billboard down.
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