ESPN pulls the plug on Grantland

ESPN logoIf you’ve not yet heard, ESPN has pulled the plug on Grantland. Now, Jonah and Ben on baseball, and other Grantland sports writers, are being folded back into the generic ESPN family. But, nonetheless, I’m thinking this can’t be good news for longer-form sports journalism over there, or for more in-depth sabermetric-type writing there in general. It’s also interesting that ESPN chose to announce this during the middle of the World Series rather than a week or two later.

Even before ESPN got rid of Bill Simmons, it was giving out other indications that cuts were on the way. This may not be the last of them.

Deadspin, at the time Simmons first went on contractual thin ice, noted that Grantland, for all of ESPN’s hyperbole, just didn’t draw a lot of traffic, relatively speaking.

Update: Deadspin now has the backstory on the bomb being dropped. Interesting info there on the contractual difference between editors and writers, and more.

Also, if I am Kevin Merida, hired just two weeks ago to run ESPN’s delve into longer-form, ethnic specific sports journalism at The Undefeated after Jason Whitlock was clearly not up to par, I have to be wondering about my professional future, don’t I?

Update 2: Fredrick deBoer gives a more upscale take on Grantland’s demise.

25 thoughts on “ESPN pulls the plug on Grantland

  1. This absolutely sucks. Jonah/Ben/Rany were some of the best sports writing you could find for free (not counting this site, of course), and Zach Lowe was the apex of NBA writing.

    The Dr. Z article really soured me on the site as a whole, but none of the people mentioned above were involved in that (Simmons himself is actually a really bad writer, full of cliches he’s been using since he started at espn in like ’01 or ’02), and I never read the cultural stuff, but I’m going to miss those guys above.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Whatever you thought of Simmons, he had the balls to take an actual original idea to ESPN at the height of his powers and dare them not to do it. He could have leveraged his insane level of popularity at the time into a cushy contract and kept doing what he was doing. Instead, he used his position and influence to coerce what was and is possibly the most originality adverse corporate monolith into trying something different. And it worked. Grantland was awesome. And it was doomed when he left- forced out because he dared to ask for market value in his next contract. ESPN sucks and what’s worse is that it knows it and doesn’t care because it owns all the content and dares you not to watch.

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    • But, per Deadspin’s link on pageviews, was he asking for market value, or was he asking for more than that?

      You’re right about some ownership, but … lots of people were not watching Grantland; how much that applies to ESPN as a whole, I don’t know.

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      • Simmons had value on ESPN beyond Grantland. He created the wildly popular 30 for 30 franchise and was easily the most recognizable name amongst the 18-35 demographic on ESPN. I may have oversimplified the issues by saying they didn’t want to pay market value- I think the animus amongst ESPN execs went way beyond dollars. I think the powers that be resented his constant challenges to their authority and his efforts to wrest autonomy from them and control his own product.

        There was plenty I didn’t like about him, but I don’t think anyone can say ESPN is better for having lost him and killing Grantland.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I was counting 30-for-30 as part of Grantland in my head, I guess, even though it’s an ESPN property.

          And, I think the second part of your statement is true. Simmons often, at 40-plus, acted like he was still a teen. We all do, at times, but he carried it to a pretty high level.

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    • Simmons is not without problems.

      1) He’s a misogynistic fuck.

      2) He believes his own press far too much.

      I haven’t read anything by him in over a decade. He wasn’t funny or clever anymore. Nothing creative. Horrible ability to write.

      He did have some great ideas to take advantage of OTHER PEOPLE’S TALENT! Like 30-for-30 and Grantland. But those were not good or great because of Simmons, but because of the talent recruited…which could have only happened because of the power that came with the 4-letter network.

      For years now (because I am an adult and not a 20 yr old frat boy), Bill Simmons has been generally irrelevant to me as a sports fan and reader. Now that his biggest stage is gone (he can think what he wants, but he needed ESPN more than they needed him), he’ll probably take the same trajectory of many formerly clever or trail blazing writers….a slow descent into madness and crotchetiness, failing to understand that he isn’t as good or relevant as he used to be.

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      • Paper, this is part of why I loved reading Deadspin’s takedowns of Simmons in the past. And, I’m sure that, after a short honeymoon for him at HBO, and wherever he goes with any column writing (from what I see, he is still probably WAY overpricing himself as a writer), Deadspin will be there to backslap him again.

        Maybe, in another decade to 15 years, he’ll be the new Rick Reilly. 🙂

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      • Know the bible cliche, I think it’s from Corinthians, ‘when I was a child, I thought as a child and acted like a child, but when I grew up I gave up my childish ways?’ (Paraphase). Simmons never grew up. He uses the same 80s/90s “pop culture” references in his columns (Teen Wolf sucked, Rounders is ok, I got threw 5 cringeworthy minutes of Swingers before I told my wife to turn it off), he talks about Vegas as if he’s the first to ever go, and holy shit he treats women like they are a piece of meat. I thought he’d get better when he had a daughter, but he hasn’t changed.

        Never mind that he’s one of the world’s biggest hypocrite writers. He writes a column about how if your team wins a championship, they get a 5 year grace period where you can’t complain about anything they do. Takes him about 2 months to blast the Sox after ’04 for breaking up the team. He talks about how he’ll never be that “sell-out” type of fan, and then moves to LA and starts hanging out in luxury boxes. Hey Bill, the Hornets and Heat made a trade that can help out your rooting team’s “nemesis”, how do you feel?

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        • Yes, part of “greatest is love” chapter. And, that’s a good analogy. And, right … Slappy, you gonna leave Down East and get Simmons to move you out to LA too? 🙂

          He’s the worst at hoops, where everything goes through a Lakers-Celtics prism, then a Larry Bird one.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. As an early adopter of the Boston sports guy, I loved him as he’s my first exposure to independent blogs. As a fan of the same teams he roots for, my apologies!

    As a fan of 30/30…you’re welcome.

    As someone who’s not a great fan of the 80’s, my apologies.

    As a fan who loves it when their writers evolve.. sorry.

    As a fan of someone who’s adept at gaining talent and editing a world class
    Long form vanity project.. you’re welcome.

    This will hurt the Disney channel far worse than it will ever hurt Simmons.

    Like him or hate him, he’s changing the landscape!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I disagree about relative importance. His ability to change the landscape was predicated on the power of ESPN, not his own persona (which is still 22 yr old frat boy). ESPN will continue to be what it is….and BIll Simmons will now probably move from relatively unsatisfying opportunity to relatively unsatisfying opportunity…because he already had the best possible situation, and now it is gone….and also, because he’s old now.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. To me, Grantland was a refreshing, unique change of pace from a lot of the other sites out there. At first glance, pop culture and sports are kinda meh, right? But if you really think about it, the intersection between the two is quite small. You can say “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” and even people who don’t follow basketball knows you’re talking about LeBron. Conversely, Drake (sorry, Inda) used a photo of Carter’s epic HR for his “Back to Back” single. Sports and pop culture go together. They are interchangeable.

    What I liked – loved, actually – about Grantland was that everyone was encouraged and expected to have their own voice. If you wanted to be snarky, great. If you wanted to make insane tangents, go for it. If you had a contrary point of view, that’s awesome. They didn’t always do the popular players, or the popular teams, or even things you ever really thought about before. But it was done with passion, and always entertaining and informative.

    I’m going to miss reading left of center ideas from people who made me think of things in a different way. RIP to one of the best sites on the Internet.

    Liked by 2 people

      • One of my favorite pieces of the last month or so that I’ve read anywhere was a feature on Grantland, written by Rembert Browne, about Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind “Hamilton”. I’ve been obsessed with that musical (oh, if only I could get to New York to see it) and Lin is so interesting. He’s like me, in a lot of ways – only I’m not nearly as genius and I’m so white I might as well be translucent. But yeah.

        Anyway, I’m going to miss being able to feed all my interests on one site – my love of hip-hop music, quirky and off-center interviews with actors and directors, cheesy takes about basketball, in-depth analysis of what went wrong every week in college football, anything Jonah Keri wants to publish.

        It’s a good thing we have this place, then. 🙂

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