A little over a year ago I went to a conversation at Colombia College here in Chicago between my friend Sam Weller and one of my favorite authors, Chuck Klosterman. This was right around the end of Bill Simmons’ suspension for calling Roger Goodell a liar and then challenging ESPN to suspend him for it.
Klosterman, a friend of Simmons’ and co-founder of Grantland.com, was, of course, asked about Simmons’ suspension and his response was interesting, 100% correct, and extremely prescient. He made the very obvious point that Simmons wasn’t suspended for calling Goodell a liar, so much as he was suspended for publicly challenging his employer to suspend him.
When you go public and dare your employer to discipline you, there’s only one way that can end.
But, the thing he said that really struck me as true, and has turned out to predict the 12 months since then, is that, and I’m paraphrasing here, Bill Simmons is the single most important employee ESPN has from an on-screen and behind the scenes perspective, what with the creation of grantland.com, his incredible popularity, and his guiding hand in the creation of the 30 for 30 series. And he’s not even 1/100th as important as any game they put on the air.
Because sports fans want to watch sports. And they want to watch their team play. I’m an IU fan, and if IU is playing on ESPN, I’m tuning in, whether Bill Simmons, Keith Olbermann, Colin Cowherd, Andy Greenwald, Alex Papademus, Rembert Browne, Chris Ryan, Wesley Morris, Jason Whitlock, or Tony Kornheiser works there.
Btw, if 12 months ago you had Tony Kornheiser in the pool of last in that group to still be working at ESPN you’re now shocked to find that you were right.
Today, ESPN announced that they were pulling the plug on Grantland.com. A move that was inevitable after Simmons’ firing, and the subsequent exodus of all of the talent that made Grantland an innovative place filled with interesting content written by smart people.
ESPN, largely in reaction to the change in how cable channels are making their money (the rise of a la carte programming means fewer subscribers to the cable tiers that house the ESPN family of networks and fewer subscribers means less revenue) and the rising cost of securing the rights to broadcast NFL, NBA, NCAA, and MLB games, has decided to get almost completely out of the business of having smart people create interesting content and focus their money-efforts almost entirely on games, games, and more games.
And this change would make me sad, except all of those smart, interesting, and creative people listed above aren’t dead.
Simmons, after a forced hiatus has reemerged in podcast form and will land on TV again in 2016 on HBO. He’s also hired away some great talent from Grantland.com to help him build his next venture, whatever that is.
Cowherd is now on Foxsports, along with Jason Whitlock, and the Grantland talent that hasn’t followed Simmons has landed elsewhere, like the New York Times, and more of them may be joining him now that Grantland is dead.
Hell, Simmons might be able to lease the Grantland office space back if he wants and hang a new sign on the door. Stranger things have happened.
Since this summer, my podcast feed has started to run dry with The Hollywood Prospectus, BS Report, and Do You Like Prince Movies all ending. And now, with the official end of Grantland, and the return of the Bill Simmons podcast, maybe the others will rise from the ashes as well.
More importantly, maybe they’ll read this and hire me to help them build whatever is next.
Because a place on-line where smart, talented, people write about sports and pop culture is something I need. And someplace I should be working, if we’re being honest about it.
So, I’m sad for the death of Grantland, but from its ashes a number of great things can come that aren’t tied to the subscriber base of cable and satellite providers and the whims of a changing commercial landscape.
And I could work there.