News broke friday that longtime ESPN writer Bill Simmons and ESPN are parting ways.
Simmons is kind of a lightening rod. I know many people doesn’t really care for him or his stuff. Personally, I’ve kind of drifted away from him over the past two years … not because I don’t like his stuff, but mostly because his focus area (the NBA more and more) is something I don’t really care about. When he wrote more about baseball, about the Red Sox and Yankees during the early 2000s heyday of the rivalry, I was as big of a fan as anyone’s. I still go to his podcast subscription first to see who’s on, and I really miss his mailbags and columns that he no longer has time to write.
Still, this news is kind of staggering. Simmons is *the* reason huge numbers of people went to ESPN. His columns were always the top draws on that website. People talk about how Grantland is a “failure” … but then are nebulous with the measurements of what constitutes a “failure” on the internet. No, Grantland doesn’t make the network millions of dollars; what website does?
I wonder what happens next. I think it was clear that Simmons was done with the hypocrisy of ESPN management and demonstrated it pretty well with his latest suspension. I think he was tired of being told what he could and couldn’t do on his podcasts (he’s been constantly fighting with editors over jokes and content), tired of being told who he could and couldn’t haveas guests (most famously, he was set to have President Obama on but for some reason ESPN nixed it, saying it was political … meanwhile Obama is on ESPN every year for the NCAA show; hypocritical). Mostly I think he was tired of the double standards that ESPN has for opinion makers on its network; the same things that Simmons was suspended for have been blatantly done by other people with no repercussions. You just can’t have double standards for personalities like that. ESPN suspended Simmons for 3 weeks for challenging management, but when Stephen A. Smith questioned the role women have in their own attacks? A slap on the wrist in comparison. Skip Bayless says the same things that Simmons gets eviscorated for with zero backlash.
But where will he have the access that he had to the NBA that he had? He *loved* the 30 for 30 stuff; that’s ESPN property. I don’t know who “owns” Grantland but the PR implied that ESPN does by virtue of saying that “Grantland will continue publishing.” So that creation is gone as well. Would he just abandon all these paths he has forged and try something complete new (like when he went to Jimmy Kimmel to write for his late-night show)?
I think someone will use Simmons to really supercharge their online sports presence. TNT holds part of the NBA contract so maybe a combo deal where does TV for TNT and then online for someplace that wants to compete against ESPN like a FoxSports. Fox makes a ton of sense since they’ve never been afraid to push the line and have little street cred.
One thing seems for sure: Simmons is still king of the podcast realm and gets his stars to appear. You can argue that’s because he was sponsored by ESPN, but his name leads the way now.
What do you guys think? Do you even read his stuff? Do you read Grantland? Do you care?