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5 Reasons Why ESPN Terminated Grantland

Jason Barrett

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ESPN chose a Friday afternoon to pull the plug on Grantland, an esoteric offshoot site created for former ESPN personality Bill Simmons that mixed high-minded sports commentary with pop culture.

The demise of Grantland, at just 4 years old, was not difficult to forecast, yet it landed as a shock to its many fans and, perhaps more tellingly, among legions of journalists. For many, it was unfair that a huge media conglomerate like ESPN would axe a lively site that jazzed up sports journalism, which tends too often to be either breathlessly hyperbolic or get-off-my-lawn stodgy.

Grantland’s demise says a lot about the current state of media.

Grantland was tiny.
For all the lamentations of Grantland’s demise, the site never had a very big audience. Despite prominent placement on the ESPN homepage and plugs from the megawatt celebrity of Simmons, Grantland never reached more than 7 million unique visitors, according to comScore. That’s about 7.5 percent of ESPN’s overall digital traffic. For a site with over 25 staffers, that’s very small in a time when big can be very big.

Internal politics suck.
The divorce of Simmons and ESPN was anything but harmonious. Despite claiming in May to being “committed to Grantland,” ESPN president John Skipper decided otherwise. Grantland, despite the team Simmons left in place, was destined to be seen as a Simmons vehicle within ESPN, where clearly no love was lost for Simmons, who subsequently decamped for an HBO show and promptly began poaching a half dozen Grantland staffers.

Personal brand vehicles are risky.
Grantland would not have existed if not for Bill Simmons. It was created as part of his last contract negotiation with ESPN. The site never felt fully integrated within ESPN, operating as a semi-autonomous region within the ESPN empire. Its identity was inevitably wrapped up around the gigantic personality of Simmons, which combined with ESPN’s patrimony gave it a big leg up.

But sites tied to journalistic starpower, particularly individuals with strong personalities, have mixed records. First Look Media found that out the hard way with The Racket, a muckraking site created for former Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi. The site never launched, scrapped last year after an acrimonious divorce between Taibbi and First Look.

“Obviously Simmons was a major tentpole to that brand,” said Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next and a former CBS Sports exec. “There is no reason that ESPN can’t and won’t continue to do the same deeper storytelling on its flagship brand rather than sending users elsewhere.”

Pet project sites are hard to justify these days.
Grantland, by all accounts, was not a huge moneymaker. It may or may not have eked out a profit, an impressive feat for a young site that kept ad placements to a minimum. According to Vanity Fair, Grantland brought in $6 million last year, which is miniscule for an operation like ESPN which throws off over $1 billion in operating income last year. As Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer told Digiday in May, Grantland was a “distant priority” for ESPN. Those are the kinds of things that get chopped during tough times.

In days past, this would be considered a rounding error for a well-heeled media entity like ESPN. But thanks to a combination of skyrocketing costs for live sporting events contracts and the trials and tribulations of cable networks, ESPN is in belt-tightening mode. Just this week, ESPN cut 300 staffers, in a move that Sports Business Daily said left many “incredulous that a company rife with cash would have to lay off so many good people.” In such times, it’s hard to justify a side project whose sole reason for existence is no longer at the company.

Grantland was neither mass nor focused.
Grantland was conceived as an idiosyncratic endeavor, where movie critiques could live alongside an analysis of that weekend’s NFL matchups. The world of media, however, is bifurcating. On one end are mass sites like BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and Vox. On the other side are narrowly focused destinations producing unique content for a specific audience. The former can survive on commodity at rates because of their scale. The latter can command a premium because of their specialization. Grantland was somewhere in between.

Read more at Digiday which is where this article was originally published

Sports TV News

The NFL Still Considering Multiple Offers For Sunday Ticket

The NFL has had the respective bids of Disney, Apple and Amazon for weeks now. DirecTV has not bid for the package but has stated it is willing to partner with the new rightsholder for a potential deal.

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Sunday Ticket Negotiations

DirecTV currently has the rights to Sunday Ticket. That deal expires at the end of this upcoming football season. The NFL is expected to make a boatload of cash when they decide which media organization gets the next rights to the package. The only question is… who will that be?

Alex Sherman of CNBC reports that the NFL has had the respective bids of Disney, Apple and Amazon for weeks now. DirecTV has decided not bid for the package. However, they are interested in partnering with the new rightsholder for a potential deal. DirecTV knows that Sunday Ticket is a staple in bars and restaurants and is interested in maintaining those relationships.

Outside of the bar/restaurant industry, success has been limited for the satellite provider with the football package. Fewer than two million subscribers signed up for Sunday Ticket each year which made the package a money-loser for the satellite TV provider.

According to the report, the NFL wants more than $2 billion for the rights and a stake in NFL Media, which is being packaged with Sunday Ticket. Also on the table is the NFL’s mobile rights. The league’s previous mobile agreement with Verizon has ended.

An interesting piece of the negotiations is Sunday Ticket price. According to the report, a buyer would have limited flexibility on pricing. The NFL signed contracts with CBS and Fox and within the framework of those deals, language mandates Sunday Ticket have a premium price. That’s to prevent loss of viewers from the networks that feature local market Sunday afternoon games. So essentially, the price is the price for the consumer.

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Sports TV News

F1 Renews With ESPN For U.S. Media Rights

ESPN was reportedly in a three-way bidding battle with Amazon and Comcast. According to the report, F1 told both Amazon and Comcast on Friday that they had decline to accept either one’s offer.

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F1 ESPN

The racing series F1 has decided to stick with ESPN through 2025.

ESPN was reportedly in a three-way bidding battle with Amazon and Comcast. According to the report, F1 told both Amazon and Comcast on Friday that they had decline to accept either one’s offer.

The reported value of the three-year contract is set to pay F1 $75-90M per year for the U.S. media rights. Amazon had offered to pay roughly $100M per year, with the right to sublicense to a linear broadcast network. Comcast’s offer was similar to ESPN’s in terms of value and the structure. They also wanted to put select races on it’s streaming service, Peacock.

Netflix was in on the negotiations, as well. The makers of Drive to Survive, the streaming series that many credit with the sport’s explosion in popularity in recent years, wasn’t close on on their financial offer. Also, it seems F1 executives were not ready to put all of its races on a streaming service just yet.

Currently, F1 receives $5M per year for ESPN to broadcast it’s races. ESPN has grabbed about 1.0 million viewers per race. That makes F1 a more than viable option for the network to invest into again. ESPN will be able to put a small number of races on its ESPN+ streaming service exclusively. The vast majority being on ABC or ESPN.

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Skip Bayless Says He And Stephen A. Smith ‘Sorted Out’ Their Disagreement

“Brothers fight. We have fought before. I’m assuming we will fight again.”

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Skip Bayless

Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless were locked in a war of words last week following the First Take host’s appearance on JJ Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast.

The origins of their partnership were discussed and Bayless admitted he did not like the way Smith characterized the state of First Take before he arrived on set. Smith insisted that Bayless simply misunderstood what he meant by saying that he was told the show needed him.

Over the weekend, Skip Bayless says he and Stephen A. Smith got together at the Bayless home in California to talk things out in private.

“He was in LA, he came over, we sat by the pool,” he said on the latest episode of The Skip Bayless Show. “It wasn’t the easiest conversation for a while, but we slowly but surely sorted it out. We got through it, and we have been through so much together.”

Bayless reiterated that he considers Smith a brother. They love each other. That doesn’t mean they are always going to remember events the same way or see eye-to-eye all the time.

“Brothers fight. We have fought before. I’m assuming we will fight again.”

Fighting doesn’t mean the relationship is fractured. In fact, Skip Bayless was adamant that he remains closer to Smith than he is to most people in his life.

“I don’t trust easily because of the way I was raised, but I do trust Stephen Anthony Smith. Trust him with my life. Always have and always will. I trust he will always be there for me, and you better believe I will always be there for him.”

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