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5 Reasons Why ESPN Terminated Grantland

Jason Barrett

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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

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Rob Manfred: Diamond Sports Group Has ‘No Plan at This Point’

“They don’t have a deal with the NBA, they don’t have a deal with the NHL, and they don’t have a deal with us.”

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Rob Manfred
Courtesy: Jonathan Dyer, USA TODAY Sports

Diamond Sports Group recently reached a deal for carriage renewal with FuboTV, securing distribution of the Bally Sports-branded regional sports networks through the platform. In recent months, Diamond Sports Group has completed carriage renewals with Charter, Cox and DirecTV, but it has still been unable to reach an agreement with Comcast, which is said to provide 80% of the company’s revenue. As Diamond Sports Group seeks to enter Ch. 11 bankruptcy, there has been concern addressed by Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League pertaining to the viability of the company.

The Sinclair subsidiary was approved for $450 million in debtor-in-possession finance as it seeks to actualize a proposed restructuring. The allocation of such remuneration will be $350 million to pay its first-lien debt holders. Additional funds therein will be transferred the remainder to the company balance sheet. Under the terms of the proposed restructuring agreement, Diamond would continue to broadcast regional games while also accepting investment from Amazon, which agreed to pay $115 million in convertible notes upon the conclusion of the bankruptcy. Junior creditors would then assume operations of the subsidiary.

On Thursday, Diamond Sports Group filed a motion with the Houston bankruptcy court overseeing the case to propose a 41-day extension for the confirmation hearing. Although it was not listed in the document, granting such modifications would presumably allow more time for Diamond and Comcast to try and reach terms on an agreement. If the alteration is granted, Diamond’s confirmation hearing would take place on Monday, July 29. The company is also in the process of trying to negotiate deals with the NBA and NHL.

Following the conclusion of an MLB owners’ meeting in New York, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the ambiguity surrounding the future of Diamond Sports Group. Bally Sports-branded regional sports networks have not been broadcast by Comcast since the end of April, something MLB counsel James Bromley called “devastating” with several teams “facing substantial problems” as a result.

Manfred is not yet sure about the league’s support pertaining to Diamond Sports Group’s reorganization plan, but he still expects the company to carry regional games for the 12 MLB teams for which it has rights through the conclusion of the 2024 season. Major League Baseball continues to produce and disseminate games for the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks as it did last summer, along with the Colorado Rockies after AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain ceased operations at the end of last year.

“It’s hard to comment on whether we’re going to object or not because there is no plan at this point,” Manfred said. “Their whole plan is, you know, ‘We’re going to get deals with distributors…. We’re going to continue with the other leagues.’ They don’t have a deal with the NBA, they don’t have a deal with the NHL, and they don’t have a deal with us.”

MLB looks to develop its own streaming platform and has reportedly had discussions about nationalizing television rights for games. In testimony last year, Manfred recalled a meeting between him and Sinclair Broadcast Group executive chairman David Smith. Smith asked Manfred to grant the company direct-to-consumer broadcast rights to bolster its Bally Sports Plus app, to which Manfred replied that it would not happen, and that people cannot always get what they want. In response, Smith said that he would squeeze clubs to diminish rights fees to make sure he stayed profitable in the RSN business. If they did not agree to that, he explained that he would put Diamond Sports Group into bankruptcy and then selectively reject contracts.

“Right now we’re really focused on the strategic part,” Manfred said. “How is it that we respond to the changes in the local media environment in a way that increases our reach and fan access to our games? We’d like to get into a model where whether you’re a dinosaur cable person like I am or a digital person, there is a frictionless opportunity to watch the game that you want to watch.”

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Erin Andrews: Tom Brady Will Be ‘Amazing’ as ‘NFL on FOX’ Broadcaster

“Everybody’s worried about the commentating. I’m just like, ‘The guy’s skin. I have to deal with this, him being on my crew.’”

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Tom Brady
Courtesy: Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Although the start of the National Football League regular season schedule of games is still several months away, there is palpable anticipation and excitement towards the proceedings. The lead broadcast crew for the NFL on FOX broadcast will include seven-time Super Bowl champion and former NFL quarterback Tom Brady as the color commentator alongside play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt and reporters Erin Andrews and Tom Rinaldi. At the same time, Andrews is continuing her podcast, Calm Down with Erin and Charissa, with co-host and FOX Sports colleague Charissa Thompson on the iHeart Podcast Network. Both Andrews and Thompson appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on NBC Thursday night to discuss the podcast and how the idea came about.

Thompson explained that she remembers being nervous working on her first day as a member of the FOX Sports team. As she was walking through the door on campus, she remembers Andrews running out to give her a hug and inform her that she would be there for her for anything she needed. When the pandemic hit, Andrews remembered thinking that everyone had a podcast and that they should try to do it. Since launching the show, it has rapidly grown with candid conversation, celebrity interviews and live events.

“You’re crushing it,” Fallon said. “It’s so great; it’s so fun to listen to you guys. I’ve heard you with, I think Derek Jeter was one of those [guests].”

Fallon wanted to know what Andrews and Thompson thought about having Brady join the FOX Sports broadcast team for the upcoming NFL season, which will culminate with Super Bowl LIX from Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, La. Andrews replied by stating that they have spoken to him in person and then asked Fallon if he had ever been around him, to which he replied that he had. Fallon articulated that Brady is good at everything, bringing up being good looking and his skill in golf as two examples, something that he finds annoying.

“And that’s the biggest thing,” Andrews said. “Everybody’s worried about the commentating. I’m just like, ‘The guy’s skin. I have to deal with this, him being on my crew.’ I know because we talk about it a lot on our podcast.”

Andrews later shared that she believes Brady will be amazing in the broadcast booth for his inaugural season, beginning with his debut on Sunday, Sept. 8 when the Dallas Cowboys face the Cleveland Browns at 4:25 p.m. EST. The schedule for games televised by FOX Sports includes several marquee NFC teams throughout the year, along with a rivalry game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers in late December.

“His résumé supports that he’s great at everything he does,” Thompson said, “so why would this be any different?”

Fallon reminisced on attending a basketball game with Brady in the past, recollecting that Brady knew the game was over despite there being time left. It turned out that Brady was correct, being able to decipher the score and probability that the opponent would come back from the deficit. Brady’s adept sports knowledge and ability to discuss the nuances of the game is a sentiment understood and concurred by Andrews and Thompson.

“I’ve sat with him [at] lunch before and he’s been telling stories about his career, and it’s like stuff we just die for,” Andrews said. “Love the inside information, right, and you’re hearing all the stuff you just always wanted to know, and my knee was just bouncing and bouncing and bouncing.”

“And then you get Julian Edelman, who’s on the show I host with him, and Rob Gronkowski,” Thompson added. “You get those three together – the three amigos – hilarity ensues.”

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Jim Ross Hospitalized, Will Miss AEW Double or Nothing

He has been dealing with the flu, raised heart enzymes and trouble breathing.

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Photo of AEW announcer Jim Ross
Courtesy: All Elite Wrestling

Legendary wrestling announcer Jim Ross will miss this weekend’s AEW pay-per-view event, Double or Nothing in Las Vegas as he was hospitalized on Thursday with shortness of breath. Ross said on his X account that he had to make an unexpected visit to the ER. He told Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer he has been dealing with the flu, raised heart enzymes and trouble breathing. Meltzer said Ross expects to be fine within a few days.

Ross, 72, has been making limited appearances for AEW of late and recently has only been appearing on pay-per-views. He recently signed a one-year contract to remain with AEW.

Ross has had a few medical issues over the last few years which have forced him to miss time. In 2021 he was treated for skin cancer and about a year ago a fall led to him stepping away for a bit.

Ross recently had a new book published, Business Is About to Pick Up! which chronicles 50 of his best calls from his 5-decade career in the wrestling business. Ross also hosts a weekly podcast, Grilling JR.

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