Blog by: George Thomas and Ron Ledgard
Let the bidding war begin for the services of Bill Simmons. He, the founder of the popular sports journalism site Grantland, he, the unabashed Boston sports team homer, he, the man who has no problem cheering for his teams while working.
Yes, that guy.
For those who didn’t know, Simmons and ESPN will likely part ways when his contract with the worldwide leader ends later this year.
“I’ve decided that I’m not going to renew his contract,” said John Skipper, the president of ESPN to the New York Times. “We’ve been talking to Bill and his agent and it was clear we weren’t going to get to the terms so we were better off focusing on transition.”
Yes, that sounds a wee bit terse. But let’s face it; the marriage between these parties has been akin to a couple waking up one morning after years together and asking ‘Why did I marry this person?’ in recent months.
Most recently, ESPN suspended Simmons for three weeks from every platform, including social media, for comments he made in his podcast, The B.S. Report, in which he took NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to task for his handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence situation.
Prior suspensions came for criticizing a Richard Sherman appearance on the screamfest First Take, which airs on ESPN2, and for referring to hosts of an ESPN affiliated radio station as “deceitful scumbags,” according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com.
I don’t know and nor have I ever spoken to Simmons, but he has a ginormous following on Twitter with 3.68 million followers. Grantland is popular among sports journalist wonks, with 4.8 million unique monthly visitors in August 2014, according to Comscore, which provides web traffic analytics for clients. That’s a drop in the bucket to ESPN’s more than 200 million visitors per month overall.
If I’m him, there’s only one thing that ESPN can provide that I don’t have. Autonomy. The freedom to offer an unfiltered opinion regarding topics in the sports universe within the confines of journalistic standards. Simmons is blunt. That can be grating, but that’s why many like him. When he accused Goodell of “lying” in his podcast, here’s guessing that he just said what many people, including those who cover the NFL, were thinking.
However, he made the mistake of not showing fealty to the king – in this case Goodell and the NFL, ESPN’s broadcast partner on a heck of a lot of programming. The second: triple dog daring his bosses. He got zapped. But I contended back then and I write the same now: he’s being paid for his opinion. You don’t pay someone for that then put a muzzle on them.
So where does that put Simmons and his future? Right now, he might very well be the cat that swallowed the canary. There’s nothing to say he can’t pick his landing spot. Given his focus on NBA basketball, a logical place for him would be TNT and NBA.com.
Could he find a home at any of the other cable sports networks? Absolutely, Simmons loves pro hoops and right now, they do not have any broadcast rights.
Of course there’s always a chance he hangs out his own shingle. Then he’d really not have to listen to anyone.