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ESPN’s Skipper Explains Why He Shut Down Grantland

Jason Barrett



Say what you will about ESPN president John Skipper, but the guy knows how to come clean. Ever since ESPN announced the immediate shutdown of its revered Internet writing showcase Grantland on October 30, there has been, apart from a terse initial statement, little clarification from the network’s Bristol headquarters about why it happened, when it happened, and what it all means. Now that has changed.

“I made the decision,” Skipper says flatly. “There was no influence from [ESPN corporate parent] Disney on this. And I made sure that I divorced my feelings about Bill [Simmons] from this decision because I would never let that affect the people who are there.”

Skipper‘s decision to end Grantland was informed by the uncertainty surrounding the site‘s personnel and the resources and effort needed to keep the site thriving absent its star founder.

Throughout the 36 years of its existence, ESPN has weathered many a dramatic event—comings and goings of stars, programs, executives, and properties—but the intensity surrounding Grantland’s demise caught many at the network by surprise. Skipper admits to underestimating the effect Simmons’s exit would have, conceding it affected Grantland personnel more than he or perhaps anyone else on his management team anticipated.

“We lacked a full understanding of the bonding nature between Bill and those guys,” Skipper says now. But along with management failing to appreciate fully the bond between Simmons and his staff, it also misunderstood the Grantland culture—enough to imagine that turning the site over to Chris Connelly, brought in as a temporary Simmons replacement, would sit well with the staff.

“Chris was only going to be interim,” Skipper says. “It wasn’t his desire to be a long-term manager there. He made that clear to us. Chris is nothing but a good guy. This has been hard on him.”

In the past several months, two ESPN executives referred to the Grantland offices in Los Angeles as a media Jonestown, populated by a cult far more devoted to their leader than to just any old web site. Clearly, Connelly was marching into a difficult situation. When Skipper flew to L.A. in mid October, he made sure to give Connelly the bad news face-to-face.

“I had to fly out to Burbank on other business but felt that Chris and I are good enough friends that I wanted to talk to him in person. Chris had become an advocate for continuing it when he knew that there was a decision-making process happening. The decision was made the week before we announced it.”

Evidently, it was never an easy one. “In the weighing of a decision like this,“ Skipper says, “you look at the resources, the time, the energy necessary to do this well and balance that with the things you get from it. This was never a financial matter for us. The benefits were having a halo brand and being Bill Simmons related.”

The site was highly regarded inside and outside the media business and brought considerable prestige to the ESPN brand. Grantland, loftily named after erudite sportswriter Henry Grantland Rice, was considered a solid, sometimes-bold step into the world of sports-related journalism, becoming one of the most successful blends ever of sports with pop culture and current events and a paradise for serious writers who wanted to stretch and even experiment.

According to Skipper, there was a scenario by which Grantland would have been saved, and that was when Grantland editor Sean Fennessey was offered the top job.

“We did make Sean Fennessey an offer to become editor-in-chief,” Skipper says. “You ask, ‘If Sean had said yes, then would we have still made the same decision about the site,’ and the answer to that has to be ‘no.’ We would have kept it going. There was no way we would have made that job offer to him if we weren’t going to keep going.”

Fennessey declined to comment for this story, however, few, if any would doubt his loyalty to, and affection for, the site. But, his decision to follow his mentor Simmons off to new worlds wasn’t shocking. It was also clear to many that his decision to turn down the top job at Grantland reflected his uncertainty about ESPN’s commitment to the site. Grantland insiders were convinced Fennessey wondered if he would really have the resources needed to run the site and keep its reputation solid. He had also become aware, sources say, of rumors that ESPN wanted to cut Grantland back to just a sports site and eliminate its pop culture content.

In the weeks ahead, media insiders will watch to see how many of the former Grantland staff will find other writing duties at ESPN, migrate to HBO to re-unite with Simmons, or find work elsewhere. But the hard cold fact for now can be simply if crudely stated: Grantland is dead. Everyone needs to move forward. The noble experiment is over.

“I loved the site,” Skipper insists. “It pained me to make the decision. It was not without difficulty.”

To read the full story visit Vanity Fair where it was originally published

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Sports TV News

45th Annual Sports Emmy Awards Honors Best in Sports Media

Barrett Sports Media



45th Sports Emmy Awards Logo
(Illustration) Logo – Courtesy: The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences

The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is holding 45th Annual Sports Emmy Awards from Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City on Tuesday night, honoring presentations, personalities and technology that made an indelible impact on the industry. Barrett Sports Media is tracking results of the awards, with winners highlighted in green beneath each category.

Outstanding Live Special

Live SpecialEntity/Entities
The MastersCBS
The 105th PGA ChampionshipCBS
Super Bowl LVIIINickelodeon Productions
CBS Sports
NFL Films
The 119th World SeriesFOX

Outstanding Live Series

Live SeriesEntity/Entities
Monday Night FootballABC
Monday Night Football with Peyton & EliESPN2
Omaha Productions
Sunday Night FootballNBC

Outstanding Playoff Coverage

Playoff CoverageEntity/Entities
American League Championship SeriesFOX
College Football Playoff SemifinalsESPN
MLB Postseason on TBSTBS
NFC ChampionshipFOX
NFL Playoffs on NBCNBC

Outstanding Edited Event Coverage

Edited Event CoverageEntity/Entities
All Access – Davis vs. Garcia: EpilogueShowtime
NFL Draft: The Pick Is InThe Roku Channel
NFL Films
Skydance Sports
NFL Game Day All Access (Super Bowl LVIII)YouTube
NFL Films
Road To The Super BowlCBS
NFL Films
2023 Special Olympic World GamesABC

Outstanding Edited Special

Edited SpecialEntity/Entities
Chasing Greatness: Coach K x LeBronTNT
CrownCBS Sports Network
E60 – The Crossover: 50 Years of Hip Hop and SportsESPN
ESPN Films
You Are Looking Live!CBS
NFL Films

Outstanding Hosted Edited Series

Hosted Edited SeriesEntity/Entities
Kickin’ ItParamount+
Golazo Network
The Pivot PodcastYouTube
Real Sports with Bryant GumbelHBO

Outstanding Esports Championship Coverage

Esports Championship CoverageEntity/Entities Paris Major 2023BLAST
2023 Call of Duty League Championship Weekend
New York Subliners vs. Toronto Ultra
Esports Engine
Activision Blizzard
Intel Extreme Masters Cologne 2023 Grand Finals
ENCE vs. G2
League of Legends Worlds 2023 Final
T1 vs. Weibo Gaming
Riot Games
VALORANT Champions 2023 Grand Final
Paper Rex vs. Evil Geniuses
Riot Games

Outstanding Short Documentary

Short DocumentaryEntity/Entities
DreamcasterMSG Network | MSG+
456 Studios
Lord + Thomas
DaHouse Audio
Citizen Music
Extraordinary Stories
One-Armed Wonder: The Extraordinary Story of Jimmy Hasty
Noah Media Group
NFL 360 – GoneNFL Network
NFL Films Presents – Lahainaluna HighFS1
NFL Films
SC Featured – Nothing Else MattersESPN+

Outstanding Long Documentary

Long DocumentaryEntity/Entities
The Deepest BreathNetflix
Motive Films
Full CircleVimeo On Demand
Level 1 Productions
KelcePrime Video
Amazon MGM Studios
Very Y Productions
9.14 Pictures
The Saint of Second ChancesNetflix
Stampede Ventures
SHOWTIME Sports Documentary Films

Outstanding Documentary Series

Documentary SeriesEntity/Entities
Catching LightningShowtime
Bat Bridge Entertainment
Village Roadshow Television
Religion of Sports
Super League: The War for FootballApple TV+
Words + Pictures
All Rise Films
Stardust Frames
The Players’ Tribune

Outstanding Documentary Series – Serialized

Documentary Series – SerializedEntity/Entities
Football Must Go OnParamount+
Formula 1: Drive to SurviveNetflix
Box to Box Films
Hard Knocks
Training Camp with The New York Jets
NFL Films
Monster FactoryApple TV+
Vox Media Studios
Public Record
NFL Films
Omaha Productions
2PM Productions

Outstanding Studio Show – Weekly

Studio Show – WeeklyEntity/Entities
College GameDayESPN
FOX CFP: Big Noon KickoffFOX
Inside the NBA on TNTTNT
The NFL TodayCBS

Outstanding Studio Show – Daily

Studio Show – DailyEntity/Entities
MLB TonightMLB Network
NBA CountdownESPN
Pardon The InterruptionESPN
Rydholm Projects, Inc.

Outstanding Studio Show – Limited Run

Studio Show – Limited RunEntity/Entities
College GameDayCollege Football PlayoffESPN
FOX MLB: The PostseasonFOX
Inside the NBA Playoffs on TNTTNT
Postseason NFL CountdownESPN
Road to the Final FourTNT

Outstanding Journalism

Journalism TitleEntity/Entities
CNN FlashDocs – “Blindsided”CNN
E60 – “Peace of Mind: Psychedelics in Sports”ESPN
E60 – “The Perfect Machine”ESPN
Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel
“A Blind Eye: Switzerland and the Corruption of World Sport”
Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel
“Call of Duty: How War is Destroying Ukrainian Sport”

Outstanding Short Feature

Short Feature TitleEntity/Entities
College GameDay – “The Legacy of Tyler Trent”ESPN
NFL 360 – “The Chief Who Walked The Sea”NFL Network
NFL 360 – “Heroes”NFL Network
NFL 360 – “Miracle”NFL Network
The NFL Today: Super Bowl LVIII – “Just Win Baby!”CBS
Sunday Night Football – “Madden & Stingley”NBC
Thursday Night Football
“Marshawn Lynch ‘N Yo City: Intercouse, PA (Yes, this is a real place)”
Prime Video
Amazon MGM Studios

Outstanding Long Feature

Long Feature TitleEntity/Entities
Outside The Lines – “Jordan McNair: The Freedom Within”ESPN
Playing Fields
“Ornella: Knocking Down Social Prejudices Pursuing Her Olympic Dream”
Olympic Channel
Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel
“No Surrender: One Man’s Battle with ALS”
SportsCenter – “SC Featured: Dear Mrs. Reid”ESPN
SportsCenter – “SC Featured: Running for Martin”ESPN
UnredeemableGolf Channel

Outstanding Open/Tease

The 149th Kentucky Derby – “Timeless”NBC
Monday Night Football – “In the Air Tonight”ESPN
NHL Winter Classic on TNT – “If This Wall Could Talk”TNT
Sunday Night Football – “Heidi”NBC
Super Bowl LVIII – “My Way”CBS

Outstanding Interactive Experience

Interactive ExperienceEntity/Entities
College Football Playoff MegaCast – Rose Bowl GameESPN
ESPN Deportes
SEC Network
Fan Controlled Racing Watch PartyTwitch
Fan Controlled Sports & Entertainment
The Magic and Mystery of US Open Champion – Carlos
NCAA March Madness LiveMarch Madness Live
Thursday Night Football – Black Friday Football StudioPrime Video
Amazon MGM Studios
Thursday Night Football – Event Coverage Optionality/CustomizationPrime Video
Amazon MGM Studios

Outstanding Digital Innovation

TitleSpecific Innovation (if applicable)Entity/Entities
Big City Greens ClassicFully animated live sporting event with integrated real-time animated talentESPN+
Disney Channel
Disney XD
Beyond Sports
Silver Spoon Animation
Disney Television Animation
DreamcasterMSG Network
Weber Shandwick
MLB NextAR AppMajor League Baseball
Red Bull ErzbergrodeoCross-platform storytelling with broadcast, web widgets and AR AppRed Bull TV
Red Bull Media House
Thursday Night FootballMachine Learning on Prime VisionPrime Video
Amazon MGM Studios

Outstanding Personality/Studio Host

Studio HostEntity/Entities
Malika AndrewsESPN
Kevin BurkhardtFOX
Rece DavisESPN
Ernie JohnsonTNT
Scott Van PeltESPN

Outstanding Personality/Play-by-Play

Studio HostEntity/Entities
Mike BreenABC
Joe BuckESPN
Ian EagleCBS
Kevin HarlanTBS
Mike TiricoNBC

Outstanding Personality/Studio Analyst

Studio HostEntity/Entities
Charles BarkleyTNT
Nate BurlesonCBS
Ryan ClarkESPN
Kirk HerbstreitESPN
Mina KimesESPN

Outstanding Personality/Event Analyst

Outstanding Personality/Sideline Reporter

Outstanding Personality/Emerging On-Air

Outstanding Technical Team Event

Outstanding Technical Team Studio

Outstanding Camera Work – Short Form

Outstanding Camera Work – Long Form

Outstanding Editing – Short Form

Outstanding Editing – Long Form

The Dick Schaap Outstanding Writing Award – Short Form

Outstanding Writing – Long Form

Outstanding Music Direction

Outstanding Audio/Sound – Live Event

Outstanding Audio/Sound – Post-Produced

Outstanding Graphic Design – Event/Show

Outstanding Graphic Design – Specialty

Outstanding Studio or Production Design/Art Direction

The George Wensel Technical Achievement Award

Outstanding Promotional Announcement

Outstanding Public Service Content

Outstanding Studio Show in Spanish

Outstanding Feature Story in Spanish

Outstanding On-Air Personality in Spanish

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Sports TV News

Report: TNT Still in Play to Retain NBA Media Rights

The report states that no official offers have been finalized at the moment, hence the lack of having to match an offer.

Barrett Sports Media



TNT Sports Logo
(Illustration) | TNT Sports Logo – Courtesy: Warner Bros. Discovery | Studio J – Courtesy: Raeford Dwyer Photography

Negotiations for the next round of media rights for the NBA remain ongoing as we await a final resolution. Reports have stated that The Walt Disney Company and Amazon Prime Video have reached the framework of agreements for respective rights packages, presumably leaving one more series of games that could go to the incumbent Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT Sports or Comcast’s NBCUniversal.

If Warner Bros. Discovery were to lose the NBA, there is ambiguity towards provisions surrounding matching rights; however, the company has not yet reached that point, according to a new report from Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports. The “B” package would reportedly contain a conference final every other year while the “C” package would reportedly include the in-season tournament, play-in games and early-round playoff series.

TNT Sports, formerly known as Turner Sports, is a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Discovery, which has had a relationship with the league in various iterations since the 1984-85 season. Although TNT Sports president and chief executive officer Luis Silberwasser stated at the company’s Upfront event last week that it was looking forward to next season and reaching an agreement that makes sense for all parties, it reportedly may need to pay more for less inventory. NBCUniversal is reportedly set to bid $2.5 billion a year for NBA rights, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal, which would more than double the reported $1.2 billion paid annually by Warner Bros. Discovery.

The report states that no official offers have been finalized at the moment, hence the lack of having to match an offer. Alex Sherman of CNBC reported that potential litigation could take place if Warner Bros. Discovery matches but the league decides to accept NBCUniversal’s deal. Charles Barkley, studio analyst for Inside the NBA, has expressed on numerous occasions that the negotiations are stressful and that there is uncertainty surrounding the result. Barkley, along with his colleagues Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny “The Jet” Smith, all reportedly have opt-out clauses in their contracts should Warner Bros. Discovery lose broadcasting rights to the NBA.

TNT will be the broadcast home of the Western Conference Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves beginning on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. EST. Kevin Harlan, Stan Van Gundy, Reggie Miller and Allie LaForce will be on the call, while the Inside the NBA crew will provide pregame, halftime and postgame coverage. Golden State Warriors forward and four-time NBA champion Draymond Green will join the show throughout the series as well, first reported by Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch.

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Sports TV News

TNT Sports Draws Its Largest Early Round NBA Playoff Audience Ever

The game delivered 8.41 million viewers across TNT and truTV.

Barrett Sports Media



TNT Sports Logo (2024 Warner Bros. Discovery Upfront)
Courtesy: Derek Futterman, Barrett Sports Media

This past weekend, TNT Sports had one of the best sporting events you can have, a Game 7. The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Denver Nuggets were tied at three games apiece in their second round NBA playoff matchup and with superstars Anthony Edwards and Nikola Jokic and a Sunday night primetime slot, it was set up to do a big number. According to Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch the game delivered 8.41 million viewers across TNT and truTV making it the most viewed first or second round playoff game ever to air on TNT.

Lewis reports the previous high for TNT was an Orlando Magic-Boston Celtics Game 7 in 2009, but also notes out-of-home viewing was not being tracked back then so it isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. He said the game had the fourth-largest audience for an opening or second round game since 2012 on any network.

The Pacers and the Knicks also played a Game 7 which went on while the final round of the PGA Championship was happening and brought in 6.45 million viewers on ABC.

Overall, Lewis shared the NBA playoffs are averaging 3.77 million viewers, which includes games on ABC, ESPN, TNT, truTV, and NBA TV. That number represents a decrease of 11% in viewership from a year ago.

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