Has Bill Simmons Departure Hurt Grantland?


An article last week on Deadspin caught my eye about what ESPN is going to do with Grantland.com.  If you remember Grantland founder and Editor-in-Chief Bill Simmons was told his contract was not going to be renewed back on May 8th and effectively it was his last day at ESPN.

I’ve been reading Bill Simmons since he was writing for Digital Cities AOL back in 1999 and I followed him to Page 2 on ESPN to his penultimate move when he and ESPN created Grantland.  A cadre of writers came on board, some well known others who would become well known after writing on the site for a while.

So the question Deadspin asked was what will happen to the site, but I’ve been curious what’s happened to the site since Simmons was fired.  Here is what Alexa and Quantcast show:

Quantcast Data

Quantcast Data

Alexa Data

Alexa Data

Clearly traffic has dipped since Simmons stopped working on the site, but part of that might be seasonal.  The NFL season ends in early February, and as the weather warms people spend less time thinking about sports, but that doesn’t fit what Grantland likes to write about.  Bill Simmons is a huge NBA fan and writes about it extensively all the way through the playoffs which wrap up in June.  Then there is the pop culture part of the site which covers May sweeps and summer movie season.

When I tried to compare the social engagement of Grantland, two things stood out.

  1. Social engagement on the site dropped 51% in the first 6 months of 2015 as compared to the first 6 months of 2014.
  2. Since Simmons stopped working on Grantland on May 8th social activity is down 53%.



So does this spell the end of Grantland?  I hope not, there are terrific writers there and they’ve been a big contributor to the resurgence of podcasts, but as Deadspin notes if the writers depart when their contracts are up, they don’t have the same momentum heading into 2016 as they did heading into 2015.

ESPN’s 30 for 30 is back.

In October 2009 ESPN ran the first in a series of documentaries celebrating the first 30 years of sports coverage at ESPN.  The documentaries were produced by filmmakers like Ice Cube and Barry Levinson.  Some of the documentaries were good, but others were captivating.  In my opinion ESPN was robbed of either a Primetime Emmy or a Grammy for best documentary.

Today ESPN announced it is kicking off a new 30 for 30 series this fall and winter.  I can’t wait to see what the next set of documentaries is going to cover.

Here are my top 5 favorite documentaries from the first 30 movies produced by ESPN:

5.    “The Band That Would Not Die” – My dad grew up in Baltimore and was a huge Baltimore Colts fan.  Watching the Colts slip out of Baltimore in the middle of the night was heartbreaking to him and other Colt fans.  In this film, we are introduced to the Baltimore Colts Band and how they never lost faith in bringing a team to Baltimore.

4.    “The U” – Lots of people, including myself, forgot how University of Miami went from an afterthought in football to winning multiple national titles.  The Hurricanes won with moxie and let everyone know it.

3.    “Catching Hell” – I am cheating a little since this film was not part of the 30 for 30 series, though originally it was.  Getting into the exact details of what happens when an innocent Chicago Cubs fan gets in the way of a Cubs’ outfielder catching a foul ball costing the Cubs a chance at returning to the their first World Series since 1945.

2.    “Once Brothers” – This story moved me the most.  Vlade Divac, the former LA Laker and Serbian goes back home to try and find closure over his broken friendship with former NBA star and Croatian Drazen Petrovic.  Their relationship was similar to brothers, but was torn apart when civil war broke out between Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s.  Unfortunately, Drazen Petrovic died in a car accident before the friendship could be repaired.  We should never take for granted the relationships we have in life.

1.    “The Two Escobars” – This should have been made into a full length movie.  “The Two Escobars” shown the spotlight on the lives of two men with the same last name, Escobar who’s lives inexplicably collided.  The first Escobar, Andres was a star soccer player in Columbia who accidentally scored an own goal that caused Columbia to lose to the US in the 1990 World Cup.  The second Escobar, Pablo, was the drug kingpin from Columbia who controlled almost all the cocaine in world.  Where the worlds collide is that both Pablo and Andres were from Medellin and it was there Pablo, who was a huge soccer fan, funded the Columbian soccer team.  Unfortunately it was the same cartel that ended Andres’ life in 1994 for retribution of that own goal in the 1990 World Cup.


Big East and West Virginia Sue Each Other, Who Else is Enjoying this $hit $how

The Big East Conference is on the brink of extinction.  The reek of desperation coming from the Providence, RI headquarters is overwhelming at this point.  The same week the conference, which was started by schools located in the Eastern Timezone, went and invited Boise State in Idaho to join the conference.  By Friday morning, the conference filed a lawsuit against West Virginia University to prevent them from leaving the conference at the end of the school year.

Let’s quickly rewind.  The Big East has been under attack since 2003 when the ACC came after two of the key football members in Virginia Tech and Miami to leave the Big East.  This upheaval caused the conference to add inferior teams and put in place rules that said if any other team were to leave the conference they would have to pay $5M to exit the conference and wait 27 months before departing.

Fast forward to 8 weeks ago, and Syracuse and Pitt decided they wanted out because they were concerned they would be left without a seat at the table of big conference football.  I said at the time this was a brilliant move, and 4 weeks later I still think it was an awesome move.  The league said Syracuse and Pitt had to wait 27 months to leave, which they made no comment on, and they did so purposely I am sure.  Now West Virginia wants out to move to the Big 12, again great move by West Virginia, but this time, both West Virginia and the Big 12 say WVU starts play in the league next year.  WVU immediately sues the Big East to get out of the 27 month waiting period, and that brings us to today.

Here is what Mountaineers do.  As soon as they can, work with the Big 12 to put together the football schedule for 2012 and release it publicly.  West Virginia sets the dates, announces ticket sales, start scheduling TV coverage.  I can see it now, next September, lowly UConn shows up in Morgantown and finds their locker room occupied by Iowa State.

Syracuse, Pitt and fans of each team are just sitting back with a bowl full of popcorn watching how all of this is going to play out.  Talking with a friend who is in the know at Syracuse believes that there is a 50/50 chance that they will be in the ACC starting in 2012, thanks to West Virginia though he believes the odds have dropped.  The league is going to get injunctions and prevent all 3 from leaving until 2013.  The Big East should just move on, they are starting to look like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction.  Give up!

Death of Cable Subscriptions?

This week at work we took an informal poll on who still paid for cable TV.  It was not surprising to see a few people had been living without cable TV for 2+ years.  I am confident that I could never give up cable TV simply because of the sports.  Now we have ESPN signing an exclusive agreement with the University of Texas to join forces on creating the Longhorn Sports Network.

This is not the first university to make an exclusive broadcast arrangement with a network, but it is the first in a long time.  Typically a conference makes an arrangement to have games broadcast on a network, but usually it is not exclusive and usually it is only for football and men’s basketball.  The Longhorn Sports Network will show more than just football and men’s basketball, it will feature all University of Texas sports.

For the first time we have a single channel dedicated to official video for all sports of a given university.  I now can see my cable subscription future becoming clearer.  Over time, I think you will see more and more universities do these exclusive deals where ALL varsity sports will be broadcast.  The next leap is that this is all available online, where I simply subscribe to university channels that I care about.  Throw in professional sports, and say bye bye to cable TV.  If only I can convince my wife that The Bachelor is not worth having cable for.