ESPN chose a Friday afternoon to pull the plug on Grantland, an esoteric offshoot site created for former ESPN personality Bill Simmons that mixed high-minded sports commentary with pop culture.
The demise of Grantland, at just 4 years old, was not difficult to forecast, yet it landed as a shock to its many fans and, perhaps more tellingly, among legions of journalists. For many, it was unfair that a huge media conglomerate like ESPN would axe a lively site that jazzed up sports journalism, which tends too often to be either breathlessly hyperbolic or get-off-my-lawn stodgy.
Grantland’s demise says a lot about the current state of media.
Grantland was tiny.
For all the lamentations of Grantland’s demise, the site never had a very big audience. Despite prominent placement on the ESPN homepage and plugs from the megawatt celebrity of Simmons, Grantland never reached more than 7 million unique visitors, according to comScore. That’s about 7.5 percent of ESPN’s overall digital traffic. For a site with over 25 staffers, that’s very small in a time when big can be very big.
Internal politics suck.
The divorce of Simmons and ESPN was anything but harmonious. Despite claiming in May to being “committed to Grantland,” ESPN president John Skipper decided otherwise. Grantland, despite the team Simmons left in place, was destined to be seen as a Simmons vehicle within ESPN, where clearly no love was lost for Simmons, who subsequently decamped for an HBO show and promptly began poaching a half dozen Grantland staffers.
Personal brand vehicles are risky.
Grantland would not have existed if not for Bill Simmons. It was created as part of his last contract negotiation with ESPN. The site never felt fully integrated within ESPN, operating as a semi-autonomous region within the ESPN empire. Its identity was inevitably wrapped up around the gigantic personality of Simmons, which combined with ESPN’s patrimony gave it a big leg up.
But sites tied to journalistic starpower, particularly individuals with strong personalities, have mixed records. First Look Media found that out the hard way with The Racket, a muckraking site created for former Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi. The site never launched, scrapped last year after an acrimonious divorce between Taibbi and First Look.
“Obviously Simmons was a major tentpole to that brand,” said Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next and a former CBS Sports exec. “There is no reason that ESPN can’t and won’t continue to do the same deeper storytelling on its flagship brand rather than sending users elsewhere.”
Pet project sites are hard to justify these days.
Grantland, by all accounts, was not a huge moneymaker. It may or may not have eked out a profit, an impressive feat for a young site that kept ad placements to a minimum. According to Vanity Fair, Grantland brought in $6 million last year, which is miniscule for an operation like ESPN which throws off over $1 billion in operating income last year. As Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer told Digiday in May, Grantland was a “distant priority” for ESPN. Those are the kinds of things that get chopped during tough times.
In days past, this would be considered a rounding error for a well-heeled media entity like ESPN. But thanks to a combination of skyrocketing costs for live sporting events contracts and the trials and tribulations of cable networks, ESPN is in belt-tightening mode. Just this week, ESPN cut 300 staffers, in a move that Sports Business Daily said left many “incredulous that a company rife with cash would have to lay off so many good people.” In such times, it’s hard to justify a side project whose sole reason for existence is no longer at the company.
Grantland was neither mass nor focused.
Grantland was conceived as an idiosyncratic endeavor, where movie critiques could live alongside an analysis of that weekend’s NFL matchups. The world of media, however, is bifurcating. On one end are mass sites like BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and Vox. On the other side are narrowly focused destinations producing unique content for a specific audience. The former can survive on commodity at rates because of their scale. The latter can command a premium because of their specialization. Grantland was somewhere in between.
Read more at Digiday which is where this article was originally published
Mike Tirico, Tom Brady, Manningcast Win Sports Emmys
The annual Sports Emmys were handed out on Tuesday night, and some usual names and new names ended up taking home hardware.
Among the usual names were NBC’s Mike Tirico, who won for Outstanding Personality/Studio Host, and soon-to-be Sunday Night Football broadcast colleague Cris Collinsworth, who was named Outstanding Personality/Sports Event Analyst.
But among the new names as Sports Emmy winners include Tom Brady and both Eli and Peyton Manning.
Brady’s Man in the Arena saga won Outstanding Documentary Series, while the Mannings were rewarded for their work on the Monday Night Football Manningcast, which won Outstanding Live Series.
Here’s a rundown of some of the key Sports Emmy winners:
Here is a full list of winners and nominees for the 2022 ceremony.
Joe Buck Says He Won’t Miss World Series
“This is the first time since I was 18-years-old, and I’m 53, that I’m not doing a baseball game.”
Among the bigger chain reactions set off by Joe Buck leaving FOX for ESPN was the sudden vacancy in FOX’s main MLB broadcast booth.
The 2022 World Series will mark the first time since 1995 that Buck will not be on the microphone.
Speaking to Chris Long on his podcast Green Light, Buck hopes to be in a more exotic location watching World Series games this fall.
“I would like to be in Cabo San Lucas with a margarita in my hand and a half-smoked cigar watching Game 7 of the World Series,” Buck said. “Cheering on Joe Davis and John Smoltz, and Ken Rosenthal, and Tom Verducci, and Pete Macheska and Matt Gangl and right on down the line.”
Buck added he’ll take pleasure in turning the broadcast off if it’s Game 7 and there’s an insurmountable lead. But the broadcasting legend said even on a bigger scale, not calling any baseball games at all this season, let alone the World Series, is a bit surreal after covering the sport for so long.
“This is the first time since I was 18-years-old, and I’m 53, that I’m not doing a baseball game,” he said. “And that’s really weird to me, but I walk away really proud of what I and we did.”
He added that he will not miss the opportunity, because he does not feel like he will “leave any unfinished business” in FOX’s MLB booth.
Buck further praised his FOX colleagues and said it was time for a change. He knows Joe Davis will thrive in the opportunity.
NFL Likely To Launch NFL+ Streaming Service This Summer
“A source tells Fischer that a $5 per month price has been discussed for NFL+.”
According to the Sports Business Journal, consumers could be downloading NFL+ by July. Now, just what NFL+ will be is still yet to be finalized.
Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal reported in the site’s newsletter that live games will certainly be at the center of the league-owned streaming service. It is likely to only be available on phones and tablets with no option to stream to a larger monitor.
The viewing options would be limited. No out of market games would be available on the app. It is meant to replace the deals that recently expired with Yahoo and mobile phone carriers that recently expired.
The app could also include other content. Radio calls, team-created digital content, and league-owned podcasts are all options.
A source tells Fischer that a $5 per month price has been discussed for NFL+. The pricing structure can and likely will change before the app hits the market.