Maybe one reason that Bill Simmons hates so much to be managed is that he's never worked on the other end, he's never been a manager. And, as Huffington is struggling after going from managing a staff of about 70 to overseeing AOL's 1,300-strong newsroom, I predict Simmons will struggle as he transitions from managing a team of exactly zero to the dozen or so people responsible for Grantland.
A dozen full-time, paid staff. And paid handsomely, I'm sure, given their name recognition. It's unclear if Bill Simmons, like Huffington, asked for a big bag of gold, but he got one anyway. Which makes me question whether or not the free site will ever be able to bring in enough advertising to make it a profitable brand extension.
What is the point of launching the spin-off site in the first place even if it could bring in some extra money? This isn't going to be a new kind of content. Simmons has made it clear that the site is going to be a place for stories about sports and pop culture, two topics that ESPN already covers. The only two topics that ESPN covers, really.
If the writers can pull off what ESPN is telling us they will, then they'll be creating content that deserves to live on ESPN's existing digital pages. A smarter place to invest would have been the primary content that the Disney-owned empire is already putting out every day instead of presenting us with an alternative.
Simmons told Mahler that Grantland will be to ESPN what Miramax was to Disney, "a boutique division with more room for creativity." But ESPN is essentially telling its primary audience that its regular website and magazine aren't good enough. Or that the readers of those publications aren't good enough, anyway. On Grantland, with long-form, big-name writers, ESPN hopes to build an elite audience. The people who want to read lengthy feature stories, the conventional thinking goes, are the kind of people who want to see advertisements for fancier products. They're the kind of people who make more money and are worth more to advertisers. The suits in Bristol are betting that they'll be able to sell the Grantland audience as a premium one.
And that was clear long before a single word was written or any staffers announced. ESPN issued a press release to reveal the site's name and the press tore it up. Grantland, a reference to Grantland Rice, the early 20th century American sportswriter, reeks of pretense. "What, was ErnestHemingway.com taken?" Slate's Tom Scocca asked. "In other news, Simmons's podcasts will henceforth be known as 'Mercury Theatre on the Air' and his football gambling-picks columns will be retitled 'A Fan's Notes.'"
Only a few days ago, Esquire's award-winning Chris Jones announced that he was
going to stop writing regularly for the magazine and shift his attention
to Grantland (Jones will remain a writer at large, a title that means
something different -- or nothing at all -- depending on the
publication). This news sparked another wave of interest in Simmons's new
site, which first received a lot of attention in late April when ESPN set the
launch date. At that time, we already knew some of the big names that
the Worldwide Leader in Sports has lured to their newest project: GQ's Dan Fierman, New York magazine's Lane Brown and Jay
Caspian Kang will serve as the site's top editors. Consulting editors include Malcolm Gladwell, Dave Eggers and Chuck Klosterman, no doubt all names that you recognize. (On his Slate blog, Tom Scocca referred to the three consulting editors, in that order, as glibness, naivete and ironic lowbrowism.)