ESPN Screwed Up

I have been a fan of Bill Simmons for over a decade now. I love his columns, podcasts and books. His columns aren’t what they used to be, but his podcast is still my favorite listen on a regular basis. I doubt I (or anyone else) would have cared about Grantland if he wasn’t at the helm in the beginning. But I had grown to love it. It was one of the few sites I still checked everyday. I listened to several of their podcasts regularly, and none of this slowed down when Simmons left.

I don’t know the full backstory of why they let him go, it was probably justified based on his behavior the last year. But shutting down Grantland after the fact made little sense. In fact, it would have been far more logical for ESPN to double down, and try to not only keep Simmons from poaching the talent at the company, but also by trying to fill the void he left as soon as possible. I don’t know how you would do this, and Chris Connelly is a fine writer/editor, but he would not have had the same podcast presence as Simmons.

Letting the site and brand whither and die seems like an odd move. Supposedly those still under contract, and whom write about sports, will have their content show up elsewhere on ESPN.com for now. It sounds like all of the pop culture stuff is dead. The odd part is that the technical side of hosting a website itself, especially one like Grantland is pretty easy and low maintenance. It also couldn’t be costing ESPN anything anyone would notice on the balance sheet. So if they are keeping (at least some of) the writing staff it seems odd to make their content harder to find by people who are used to reading them.

If ESPN just wanted to pack up their ball and go home, I would have expected them to just fire everyone, and maybe they did that with a lot of people. It’s still unclear where people like Zach Lowe, Robert Mays and Bill Barnwell will have content showing up anytime soon. The fact that I haven’t seen any of them comment on such a thing makes me think they don’t really know either. It’s easy for a big entity to lose track of something like this, but the fans of Grantland were hardcore; a devoted following to be certain. Just flat out pulling the plug seems less like an economical decision and more a spiteful one. Maybe they didn’t like the support the current Grantland staffers were giving the former ones. Maybe they didn’t like Simmons screwing with the people that still worked there (although one would think a non-compete of some sort would have been an easy maneuver). Whatever the reason for canning the site, it remains a giant missed opportunity to find a way to make what was left work.

I have no idea what Simmons’ plan is. He hired a bunch of people who mostly did pop culture related things. His new HBO show won’t be out until spring, which seems like an eternity to make a TV show that won’t be scripted. He has some new “secret” project in the works for these people supposedly. One would assume it has to be backed by HBO or some other major entity though. It will probably take months, if not a year to really know what he is up to. It’s nice to have Simmons back in my life, but I am concerned that the payoff won’t be as good this time around, especially after a lengthy wait.