Bill Simmons files: Inside details of break-up; What’s next for Simmons?

As is often the case, I was out of writing range Friday when someone sent me a text saying ESPN is severing ties with Bill Simmons.

However, there will be plenty to say about this story in the upcoming days and months. For now, I figured I would do a round-up of what already is being said.

Richard Sandomir of the New York Times drops the blockbuster scoop.

Skipper said that ESPN would maintain its commitment to Grantland without Simmons. Eventually, it would seem, other Grantland employees would join Simmons in any new venture. The site’s publisher, David Cho, announced earlier this week that he was leaving, though there is no indication that was related to Simmons’s departure.

“It long ago went from being a Bill Simmons site to one that can stand on its own,” Skipper said of Grantland. “Bill’s done an excellent job for us on Grantland, and we have an outstanding staff. Bill’s contributions have been fantastic, including his own column. I hope we’ll have a friendly discussion about the transition.”

“This is not personal,” added Skipper, who is considered Simmons’s friend and staunch supporter. “It’s business.”

James Andrew Miller writing for Vanity Fair offers an inside account of the break-up.

Problems and tensions were clear to many throughout 2014. Then all hell broke loose in the fall when, at the height of the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal, Simmons called N.F.L. commissioner Roger Goodell a liar during a segment on his podcast. ESPN suspended him.

The suspension was supposed to include a two-week dock in pay, but when he looked at his paychecks afterward, Simmons could hardly help noticing that the checks were for the usual amount. He interpreted this as ESPN holding out an olive branch; the public censure had been just for show, Simmons thought; there was no financial penalty after all.

That might have smoothed things out between Simmons and management—but on December 19, Simmons opened his pay envelope and was not pleased. Two weeks’ worth of salary wasn’t there: “Merry Christmas, Mr. Simmons—here’s your lump of coal.” Simmons had had enough. The chances of him staying at ESPN from that point onward became less and less probable.

Jason McIntyre of Big Lead writes ESPN balked at paying Simmons $6 million per year.

Bill Simmons and ESPN waged intense contract discussions over the last few weeks, and this became the sticking point on Bristol’s end: It’s difficult to justify paying Bill Simmons $6+ million a year for the revenue he was driving.

And ultimately, that’s what the contract talks boiled down to: Simmons is the most powerful member in sports media, an innovator with the most popular podcast in sports, a vanity website, the “original blogger” who carved out a niche as the Boston Sports Guy and smoothly transitioned to being a creator of the Emmy-award winning 30-for-30 series, but … were any of those ventures generating significant revenue?

Dan Levy, a fine new addition to Awful Announcing, speculates on where Simmons goes from here.

If John Skipper no longer wants to be in the Bill Simmons business, there will certainly be no shortage of offers for The Sports Guy’s services this summer. Simmons should hold a ball to find his next employer. He could dance with each of them deep into the night and then fall in love with his Cinderella—if only he can find her.

No matter how he decides where to go, we must prepare ourselves for the Summer of Bill—I hope there’s frolf—with a list of the 33 (!) places Simmons could possibly land for his next gig, ranked in order from least to most likely.

Richard Deitsch of with more speculation on Simmons’ next move.

The possible suitors for Simmons include other traditional media companies, such as Fox Sports where one of Simmons’ longtime friends and admirers, Jamie Horowitz, just took a job as the president of Fox Sports National Networks. Horowitz will oversee programming, marketing and scheduling for Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 and supervise management and development of original programming.

(In September 2013, Simmons told “Fox Sports 1 talked a big game before they launched and deserved a little ribbing. Remember, they were posing for magazine covers, trying to steal ESPN people, bragging about having ‘fun’ and taking veiled shots at us. Meanwhile, the NBA previews I did with Jalen [Rose] for Grantland Channel would be their highest-rated show right now. Why are we even talking about them, Deitsch? When they can come up with a show that can out-rate me and Jalen wearing the same clothes for six straight hours on YouTube, get back to me.”)

Turner Sports has the rights to the NBA, which is Simmons’ bailiwick, and a big digital property in Bleacher Report. “It’s premature to discuss at this time,” said a Turner Sports spokesperson on Friday.

Paul Fahri of the Washington Post got this insight from John Ourand.

It’s unlikely that Simmons will be without work for long, said John Ourand, who covers sports media for SportsBusiness Journal. ESPN’s national rival, Fox Sports, is a potential destination, Ourand said, especially because it recently hired a former ESPN and NBC executive, Jamie Horowitz, who is a friend of Simmons. But there are others: Turner Sports has NBA rights, and NBC could benefit from the younger, male audience that knows Simmons.

Ourand expects Simmons to stretch beyond sports. Noting Simmons’s friendship with talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel, he said: “I suspect his next move will have a real entertainment beat to it. I’d be surprised if it’s pure sports.” (Simmons briefly worked as a writer on Kimmel’s late-night show in 2003-2004 before returning to ESPN full-time.)

Kelly McBride of Poynter says Bill Simmons and ESPN will be just fine.

Simmons will do fine. He has 3.6 million Twitter followers. He could start his own small empire or he could get scooped by another sports media organization willing to give him a long leash.  And ESPN will be fine without him. Under the right editor, Grantland could mature into The Atlantic of the sports world. 

Richard Bilton of Digiday thinks the future for Grantland is murky without Simmons.

“It doesn’t look good for Grantland,” said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, who said that losing Simmons could make it harder for Grantland to continue attracting big-name writers. “Grantland, lightly ESPN-branded, is a distant priority to them, and probably a vanity thing to keep Bill Simmons affordable and on payroll. Now that they don’t have that burden, I question whether or not they will even want to keep it alive.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *