Bill Simmons discusses Grantland shutdown on new podcast
Bill Simmons discussed the surprising and sudden shutdown of his project website Grantland during his latest podcast, which was posted on Wednesday night.
On episode 19 of “The Bill Simmons Podcast” featuring Malcolm Gladwell, Simmons shared his thoughts on the Grantland shutdown, saying it was “frustrating” and left everyone “sad.”
“They did own it and they can do what they want with it,” Simmons said of ESPN. “The thing that was frustrating to me … people wrote so many nice things about the site, and I appreciate all of it. It was really nice to know that the site resonated with so many people, and we were sad too.”
Simmons, who is now with HBO after parting ways with ESPN, says he could see Grantland beginning to fall apart, but he was still surprised the company suddenly pulled the plug on the site.
“The site just started to splinter and you could feel it, but I didn’t think it was going to be overnight,” Simmons said. “I was still working there six months ago. The site was coming off its best month in April, and we were still figuring out how to do the site. I think that’s something that people forget.”
One of the criticisms of the site and rumored reasons for its shutdown was that it was not profitable enough. Simmons acknowledged that making money was not his primary focus, but he was still perplexed by ESPN’s inability to monetize the site and all its assets.
“We should have made a lot more money than we did, and part of this is my fault. I always felt like we should just worry about the words — people are going to come — worry about the quality. The staff can back me up; I never looked at the pageviews and stuff, I never cared about that. I always was worried about the overall calibration and quality of the site, and I felt like in the long run we were going to win,” said Simmons. “But then when the business stuff started and we needed to keep growing the site and they were like, ‘look, the site’s not really raking in the cash,’ I’m like, ‘that’s not possible.’ We have the best advertising demo there is. This doesn’t make sense. Explain this to me.'”
Simmons then touched on the lack of advertising.
“We had a sponsored studio that wasn’t sponsored! How hard is it to get a sponsor? So it was a lot of moments like that.
“We were like this little boutique place that’s trying to build traffic and trying to give them a little soul. You almost have to think outside the box a little bit.”
Even though he expressed sadness over ESPN’s decision to shut down his baby, Simmons did take blame for the fracturing of his relationship with the company. He also praised the network.
“It was a great place to work and great for creative people,” Simmons said of much of his time with ESPN. He also said that he still had a lot of love for John Walsh, the executive editor of ESPN.
Simmons said if he could do it over again, he would have edited the infamous podcast that got him suspended from ESPN and eventually led to his split from the company.
“I’m not blameless with (Commission Roger) Goodell. I was mad about a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes. I would have taken it out,” said Simmons. However, Simmons said he stands “by everything I said about him.”
As the leader of Grantland, Simmons recognized that by putting himself on the line with ESPN, he was putting the jobs of so many others in jeopardy.
“I had all these people that were counting on me. I got 50 people working for that website in some capacity. If I’m going to push the envelope like I did, you gotta know where the line is, because the last thing I want to do is put all those people in a bad spot. And as a staff, we should have asked whether this was worth it.”
Simmons recently said he thought the NFL complained about his podcast, leading to his suspension.
“I was overworked and we should have taken our time with it and we didn’t,” Simmons said of the Goodell podcast.
In the end, Simmons has moved on to HBO where he will have new projects to work on and promote. He also is still doing his podcast and still has a strong social media presence.
The legacy of Grantland may be dying, but Simmons is still in his prime.