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Gearing up for fantasy football in Charlotte, not work at all

A group participating in a fantasy football draft. hspace=4

The 32 teams that make up the NFL have spent the past month and a half getting ready for the new season, which kicks off tonight. Around the country, millions of fantasy football players have also been getting ready. But instead of running tackling drills and learning play books, fantasy players in the Charlotte area like seasoned veteran Clint Gentz have been preparing over beer and wings. "I started playing fantasy football probably 16, 17 years ago," Gentz says. "It was just a bunch of guys got around and had to figure out their own points. There wasn't any online services. You picked the guys and got the Tuesday morning paper after Monday night football and add up your own points." Basically, a fantasy team gets points based on the success and failures of real life players. And all fantasy leagues start with a draft. And many times, the draft is a very big deal. Until a few years ago, Gentz was hosting his drafts at home. "I had cooked a bunch of steaks and ribs on the grill," he says. "It was outside on my deck. Everybody came over, they had their wives and kids with them. We had just tons of people. It was more of a party than it was an actual draft. And that's what people came for." But now, more and more guys like Gentz are moving their parties from their decks to bars and restaurants. This year, Gentz and his league held their draft at Hooters in Concord. And like any decent journalist, I must go where the story takes me. This Hooters hosted about 20 draft parties this year. On a recent Sunday evening, 13 guys have gotten together to eat wings, drink beer and check out the waitresses. And of course, they make their fantasy picks. Hooters' head of marketing, Mike McNeil, says he welcomes the fantasy football crowd. "The people that play fantasy football, they're just looking for a fun place where a group of guys would like to get together and Hooters is that kind of place." McNeil led a nationwide campaign this summer aimed at fantasy football players. Nationwide, McNeil thinks the chain will host about 5,000 fantasy draft parties. The promotion has included 50 free wings for each league. And in Charlotte, the promotion seems to have worked. Four Charlotte area Hooters have hosted around 65 draft parties. Hickory Tavern, Boardwalk Billy's, Midtown Sundries and Fox and Hound have hosted dozens of others. That's been a boost for business. As Gentz points out, a typical draft can take hours to get through. "If everybody concentrates, we can probably get it done it 3 hours," he says. "I doubt that will happena lot of distractions here. Like the girls, obviously the girls" Matt Pitts, the general manager at the Concord restaurant, says the average tab has been about $300 dollars per draft. And Pitts is hoping it generates even more business later. "Maybe one or two of those people in those parties are people that come into our restaurant," he says. "But there might be 10 or 11 that don't come into our restaurant once a week or once a month. So that helps us get new people in the restaurant too." And it's a good crowd to be attracting. According to the Fantasy Sports Association - yes there is such a thing - the average fantasy football player makes $80,000 a year. Pitts says his fantasy customers have included an engineer and a high school principal. By the time Gentz' league had finished its draft, it had racked up a nearly $700 dollar tab. But Gentz says, more than money, it's about having fun. "I hope I don't get in trouble for saying thisYou get away from the wives a little betterwhen you come out," he laughs. "And you can be yourself a little more. When I was having my drafts at my house, of course I was watching my Ps and Qs a little better. I can be one of the guys when we come out here." And McNeil, with Hooters, says his company is happy to provide a place where boys can be boys.