An excerpt from my latest column for Poynter:
In Grantland’s case, there was another factor beyond money. When ESPN parted ways with Bill Simmons earlier in the year, ESPN president John Skipper should have pulled the plug on Grantland at the same time.
While the site was named for Grantland Rice, the most influential sportswriter in the 20th Century, it really should have been called “Simmons,” arguably the most impactful sportswriter thus far in the 21st Century. Simmons conceived the site as an extension of his ground-breaking columns and podcasts that covered the Celtics in one breath and “Mad Men” in the next.
With Simmons, Grantland developed into a niche site with a faithful following. Even though it didn’t generate a profit, Grantland’s premium content allowed ESPN and Skipper to take a pleasant ride into an intellectual, high-brow neighborhood.
However, when Simmons left, Grantland lost its voice. It seemed to be floating aimlessly without its captain, an image further enhanced by James Andrew Miller’s piece for Vanity Fair about staff vdiscontent in the wake of Simmons’ departure. The negative vibe was getting fairly heavy.
In retrospect, Skipper was foolhardy to try to keep Grantland going. It wasn’t going to be the same site. And plus, Grantland wasn’t making any money. Ultimately, it was a simple decision for Skipper.