by Dillon Meehan
To say the least, ESPN has gone through a lot this past year. It started in early May when Bill Simmons questioned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s “testicular fortitude,” in regards to Goodell’s lack of confidence when handing out suspensions. ESPN in response fired Simmons; oh wait sorry ESPN decided “to not renew his contract,” which expired in September. Following the departure of Simmons, ESPN’s President John Skipper pledged his allegiance to the site Simmons started and was the editor-in-chief of, Grantland.
The site was named after famed sportswriter Grantland Rice, who helped start this nation’s first batch of great sports journalists. Rice became famous for his phenomenal use of metaphors and illusions, which typically sounded something like this, “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden,” he was describing the backfield of the 1924 Notre Dame football team.
Grantland was dubbed “a sports and pop-culture site,” and because of their ability to find talent, the mesh of journalistic genres was a perfect blend. The site was a massive leap of faith, the site didn’t try to beat everyone to the punch about breaking news or have a write-up on last night’s Warriors-Grizzlies match-up. It would instead have a piece that dealt with Steph Curry’s ability to move off the ball and create open space, or about how the Warriors’ ball movement and “small ball” style might just make for an overall more efficient brand of basketball, sorry Charles Barkley.
Apart from sports, the site also featured stories on the music industry and cinema, many of which came from either Rembert Browne, or Wesley Morris, two of Granltand’s best writers, who have since respectively left to write at New York Magazine and The New York Times. There was also a heavy focus on television, which saw the likes of Chris Ryan, who can basically write about anything and make it amazing and Andy Greenwald. Many would turn to their write-ups on the piss-poor sophomore season of True Detective and would listen in on their “Hollywood Perspective” podcast, which is now gone forever.
However, we are now just over five months removed from Simmons’ departure and it appears that Skipper has had a change of heart. This past Friday, ESPN announced that it was suspending the publication. The decision was made, to put it respectively, during a rather peculiar time. It was the middle of the afternoon on a Friday, during one of the busiest sporting weekends of the year. The World Series was likely coming to a close, which it did, the NFL had a major primetime Sunday match-up that would surely create headlines, which it did, and college football always seems to create a major weekly storyline, which it did, thanks ACC football refs.
In the classic 21st century news cycle, it has already been swept under the rug. With the nation’s talking heads having discussions whether Peyton Manning is elite again, or if the NCAA should adopt a centralized replay center, like in the NFL or in the MLB. Skip Bayless also came out and said that Aaron Rodgers is not that good, which I’m not entirely sure is that much different from a WWE-esque ploy made by ESPN to ensure Twitter keeps Grantland’s demise as far away from the public’s eye as possible. After Simmons stole the testicular fortitude line from Mick Foley, anything is possible.
Ever since officially leaving the “Worldwide Leader” at the end of last month, Simmons has launched a new podcast, and has a new television show with HBO beginning in the spring. A few weeks ago, news broke that Grantland members Sean Fennessey, Juliet Litman, Mallory Rubin and Chris Ryan had all handed in their resignations in order to team up with Simmons on a new venture. All of the members have experience in dealing with the pop-culture side of the site, which lead to speculation that the new project may be a “Grantland 2.0.”
After their resignations, Grantland’s NFL podcast, which features staff writers Bill Barnwell and Robert Mays, was strangely delayed from being released, and many speculate it is due to the fact that the now former Grantland writers gave a tribute to their former editors. Following the delay, the podcast which usually releases three times a week, was left untouched for two weeks, with an occasional “no podcast today” tweet from Barnwell.
Now there are reasons to why this site both succeeded and failed. A lot of it can be attributed to Simmons, who was able to form a star-studded cast of writers that delivered outstanding content on a daily basis. It was so much better and diverse than anything else and because of that, a loyal fan base began to follow it. The site reportedly gained around four to five million unique viewers a month, which by traditional standards is phenomenal, but not for ESPN, where fantasy guru Matthew Berry would generally see that type of viewership per article. With ESPN paying billions of dollars each year for live TV rights, business decisions have to be made. That is why they laid off hundreds of loyal employees, and unfortunately that is why Grantland was likely doomed after its founder was fired for speaking the truth. The site was not marketed well, at all. When looking at ESPN’s home page, readers would often have to scroll down to the bottom line before seeing Grantland’s own private section, which lead to zero Grantland articles being featured as main stories, automatically creating a lower amount of viewership. Grantland’s All-Star Cast came at an All-Star salary, and without the proper marketing, there was only so much it could do. The site was unfortunately destined to fail, and not by the actions of Simmons, but by ESPN’s lack of respecting the best media outlet the journalism field has seen for a long time.
So goodbye Grantland, it was a good run.