Several ESPN personalities are fond of reminding us that “fan is short for fanatic” and the network was created to cater to those who eat, sleep, and breathe sports, sports, and more sports. Whether pre-game, post-game, in-game, the week before, the day of, or the morning after, the network sought to deliver what these crazies craved.
But when it started hemorrhaging subscribers, the “worldwide leader” in sports broadcasting sought to broaden its audience, and began to morph from a sports giant with a smattering of pop culture, into an unsatisfying amalgam that was equal parts ESPN and E!. It also began to embrace more volatile and pugnacious personalities like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, who are capable of delivering red-faced rants on cue and attract those seeking spectacle instead of sports.
In such a climate, it was always going to be difficult for a website like Grantland to survive, and few in the industry were surprised when, on Friday, ESPN announced that it would be shuttering the site, effective immediately.
A passion project of the recently-departed Bill Simmons, Grantland was a bastion of intelligent, long-form sports journalism that offered incisive analysis, in-depth player profiles, and relevant social commentary. It was also, however, a prestige brand and an entity that wasn’t turning a profit for its parent.
Some (including its founder) blame network neglect for the closure, but with parent Disney forcing ESPN to cut $100 million from its 2016 budget and $250 million from its 2017 budget, profits are now paramount and loss-leaders more difficult to justify.
As you might expect, Simmons weighed in via twitter yesterday, and as you also might expect, he had some pretty strong words for his former employer.
I loved everyone I worked with at G and loved what we built. Watching good/kind/talented people get treated so callously = simply appalling.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) October 30, 2015
Before leaving ESPN, The Sports Guy had some highly publicized run-ins with network brass, and now that he is out from under its umbrella, any reservations he might have felt about criticizing his former employer went out the window.
As he indicated earlier this month on his podcast, Simmons believes that, at best, ESPN was indifferent to Grantland, and at worst, sabotaged it outright.
“I just think it is weird to work at a place that is trying to make you look bad,” Simmons said back on Oct. 2. “Usually places try not to make some of their best talent look bad. It’s usually not something a company does. So there was bad blood.”
Given Simmons’ public rift with ESPN, and ESPN’s change in course, it’s certainly not shocking that Grantland was left to die on the vine, but it’s still a sad day for fans of sports and journalism alike.
If you’re still interested in following the man behind the now-defunct site, you can check out The Bill Simmons Podcast for free here.