In the eyes of most sports fans who enjoyed reading Grantland’s type of journalism, ESPN’s decision to close the site was a disappointment to them. But there wasn’t a definite reason to explain the closing. Was it due to the firing of founder and editor-in-chief Bill Simmons or is it the start of the end for online longform sports journalism?
ESPN isn’t about the quality of work the company puts their name on necessarily.
ESPN’s official statement said, “…We have decided to direct our time and energy going forward to projects that we believe will have a broader and more significant impact across our enterprise.”
What exactly does that mean?
Jim Cavan of Sports Illustrated writes, “For ESPN, the only #content risks worth taking are ones that can be watched. …It’s because the spot-lit seats are easier to see, and thus more tractable.”
When you tune into ESPN on a weekday, all day long, they have outrageous programming that meets the eye. From First Take’s aggressive debates to SportsNation’s click-bait antics, the point Cavan made is salient.
As the Milwaukee Record put it, “…The end of Grantland seemed to spell the very end of meaningful content in an online world littered with nothing but quick-hit filler and click-bait junk.”
Many people were surprised with this action, including writers for the website that didn’t see it coming. Many of them found out they didn’t have a job any more via Twitter, which begs the question why ESPN ousted the writers in this way.
Grantland had a lot of upside until their founder and editor-in-chief Bill Simmons was fired. The decision-maker, ESPN president John Skipper, says in a Vanity Fair interview that he “lacked a full understanding of the bond nature between Bill and those guys.” By those guys, he was talking about the writers that had a certain respect and appreciation for Simmons and his different approach at writing stories in a different way that ESPN doesn’t do on their website.
When Simmons left, they sat Chris Connelly in Simmons’ old chair as they tried to find a permanent replacement for Simmons. Connelly told Skipper he didn’t want the position. He knew the site wasn’t going to work out after Simmons’ firing and wanted to get out before it was too late.
Skipper said, “…I made sure that I divorced my feelings about Bill from this decision because I would never let that affect the people who are there.”
As it looks, Skipper had certain feelings towards Simmons and possibly keeping the site around will keep Simmons linked to ESPN in some way.
“This was never a financial matter for us,” Skipper said. It was “being Bill Simmons related.”
Sean Fennessey worked as an editor at Grantland and was offered the king’s chair. Skipper said Grantland would have been saved if he had accepted the position.
But no one wanted to continue working for Grantland even if it connects with the biggest sports outlets in the world.
Bill Simmons announced he would be having his own show on HBO. Many key editorial figures resigned to go work with Simmons. It just shows that Grantland and Simmons would be connected forever. It goes to show that ESPN was correct for closing down the site, but they can’t say it is for any reason other than its slow demise without Simmons leading the way.
It seems that the loyalty for Simmons plays harder ball than ESPN does.