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Does Simmons Want Out of ESPN?

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Late last week, we passed on scuttlebutt that ESPN columnist/podcast/sports guy/talking head/producer Bill Simmons would be a free agent in a year.

People in tech and media believe Simmons wants to leave ESPN, where he reportedly makes more than $3 million a year.

It’s said that Simmons wants to start his own company, with investment from a platform that will help him with sales, tech, and publicity.

If so, that platform will presumably need to write Simmons quite a large check to get going.

For comparison’s sake, the news-for-millennials startup Mic raised $10 million for its second big round of financing last spring. Previously, it had raised $5 million. Bleacher Report cofounder Bryan Goldberg raised $6.5 million to launch Bustle, a news site for women.

Simmons will probably need to raise a similar amount to staff a newsroom of 20 or so. He will definitely need to raise more if wants to keep pulling a $3 million salary.

Is Simmons worth that kind of money?

Not according to one digital media CEO we spoke to.

This person pointed to the performance of the two big sites Simmons has launched for ESPN so far.

The first is Grantland, the middle-to high-brow sports site Simmons launched three years ago.

According to ComScore, Grantland reached 4.8 million people in August 2014. That’s pretty small compared with the 25 million people the Gawker Media sports website Deadspin reached in the same month. Grantland grew 19% year-over-year. Deadspin grew 303%. The audience of another competitor, Vox Media’s SB Nation, was 13 million.

The comparison is especially ugly for Grantland when you consider that it gets a lot of traffic from ESPN.com, a web giant with roughly 200 million monthly unique visitors.

The second big web brand Simmons helped launch for ESPN is FiveThirtyEight. As Grantland is built around Simmons, FiveThirtyEight is built around Nate Silver, the reporter who became famous for using polling data to accurately predict the results of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

FiveThirtyEight is supposed to be a “smart” site that tells stories based on numbers.

Supposedly, Simmons fought hard for ESPN to hire Silver, and some ESPN executives hold Simmons accountable for FiveThirtyEight’s performance.

So how is it doing?

ComScore says FiveThirtyEight has just under 2 million visitors. That’s small, but FiveThirtyEight is relatively new.

Fortunately, there’s a good site to compare FiveThirtyEight to: Vox, the politics-and-more news analysis site from Vox Media that launched around the same time and has its own star editor, former Washington Post political blogger Ezra Klein.

ComScore says Vox has 10.7 million unique visitors.

Why are FiveThirtyEight and Grantland so small?

The digital-media CEO we spoke to said he had heard Grantland writers were completely shielded from traffic data and that there was little pressure on them to attract new readers.

That’s different from how things run at successful standalone digital properties, including Gawker Media, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and some of the Vox Media sites, where (with some exceptions) writers are usually aware of their traffic and sometimes see their compensation rise or fall because of it.

Because of that difference, the CEO we spoke to said he would probably stay out of any bidding war for Simmons when his contract is up next year.

Nonetheless, Simmons may well be worth what ESPN pays him.

After all, ESPN is already a web giant, so squeezing a few million extra uniques out of Simmons may not really be a priority.

ESPN may well be perfectly happy simply to have him on TV talking about basketball, coming up with ideas like the “30 for 30″ documentary series, and generally infusing the ESPN brand with the Simmons mystique — making the whole place more attractive to advertisers.

There is real value in all of that.

It’s just unlikely that a digital-only, venture-capital-funded company would be able to capture the same value.

If Simmons wants to start or partner with a company like that, his new site is going to have work differently than Grantland does.

If he doesn’t want to do that, he has two options: Stay in the world of TV-based media — perhaps joining FOX Sports or NBCSN — or go to a new-media company like Yahoo or AOL that’s willing to pay him because of his brand’s halo effect.

Credit to Business Insider who originally posted this story.

Sports Radio News

Jeff Rickard Named Program Director of WFNZ in Charlotte

“After our first conversation I knew Jeff was the one to take us to the next level.”

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Jeff Rickard is headed to Charlotte. The sports radio veteran has been named the new program director of WFNZ, one of the Southeast’s premier sports radio brands.

Rickard replaces Terry Foxx who announced in February that he was leaving Charlotte to take over KUT in Austin. 

“We are committed to making sports radio even bigger in Charlotte, adding the 92.7 FM signal in March was just the beginning of that commitment,” Marsha Landess, Regional Vice President of Radio One, said in a press release. “Having a successful veteran like Jeff Rickard join our team will help take us to the level that a passionate sports city like Charlotte deserves. Jeff brings to WFNZ extensive sports experience, talent, drive, and a passion for success. He will be a great complement to our incredibly talented local Charlotte on-air team. After our first conversation I knew he was the one to take us to the next level. As the flagship station for the Charlotte Hornets as well as Charlotte FC we are looking forward to an incredibly successful future with Jeff leading the charge.”

Rickard’s resume in sports radio speaks for itself. He was most recently the brand manager at WEEI in Boston, a role he exited in January. Prior to that, he spent six years at 107.5 The Fan in Indianapolis serving as both a weekday host and the station’s program director. He has also worked nationally for ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio, and SiriusXM, and spent time during the early part of his career working in Denver and Salt Lake City.

“I had been planning on taking a professional sabbatical this year but after meeting with Marsha Landess and learning more about Radio One, I began to get more excited to get back to work,” shared Rickard. “Radio One as a company, combined with Marsha’s leadership and the potential for WFNZ, was just too appealing to not be a part of. I am extremely grateful to Radio One for this opportunity and can’t wait to start working with the talented staff in Charlotte. My family and I are all in on this situation and can’t wait to get started on this new chapter.”

Not one to waste time diving in, Rickard officially stepped into the Charlotte offices today to meet his new staff.

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Sports Radio News

Kirk Herbstriet Wants To Be Held To Same Standard For NFL As College Football

“Herbstreit was on The Pat McAfee Show on Friday and he said he is already at Pro Football Focus in Cincinnati doing his research.”

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The NFL schedule was released last week, and Thursday Night Football has a lot of interesting matchups for its first year on Amazon Prime. It is also a new broadcast booth with Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit on the call. 

With Herbstreit now adding Thursday Night Football to College Gameday, he has already started preparing for the upcoming season. Herbstreit was on The Pat McAfee Show on Friday and he said he is already at Pro Football Focus in Cincinnati doing his research.

“I’m just trying to lay a foundation,” said Herbstreit. 

Herbstreit told McAfee that whenever anyone asks him to talk about a college team, he can quickly tell them what the DNA of that team is. Now he wants to bring that level of preparation to his NFL broadcasts. He will look at a different matchup every week this summer to get a more detailed idea of what each team is about: 

As for his connection with Al Michaels, Herbstreit mentioned he has gone out to dinner with him a couple of times and he wants to make going out to eat with his broadcast partner a frequent deal.

“Hung out with him 2-3 times. Had a chance just to get to know him. When you go into a new deal, I love like Wednesday night dinner, I want to make a staple and just hang out and get to know him and hopefully he will get to know me. When you do that, it allows you to have natural chemistry.”

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Sports Radio News

Andrew Mason To Succeed John Clayton At 104.3 The Fan

“Mason comes to The Fan from DNVR, a digital outlet where he provided written and audio content for the last three seasons.”

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John Clayton passed away earlier this year. That left 104.3 The Fan without a lead Broncos writer for the 2022 season. On Monday, the station announced that it had hired a successor in Andrew Mason.

Mason comes to The Fan from DNVR, a digital outlet where he provided written and audio content for the last three seasons.

“Mase’s work speaks for itself as one of the market’s most respected analysts when it comes to writing about and discussing the Broncos,” Raj Sharan, The Fan’s program director, said in a press release. “Replacing someone of the legendary stature of John Clayton was not something we took lightly, and we believe Mase is the perfect person to pick up that mantle and bring tremendous credibility and content to our rapidly growing digital platforms.”

Andrew Mason has a lot of credibility with Broncos fans. He has covered the team for 19 years. He has also written a book called Tales from the Denver Broncos Sideline.

The Fan won’t be his first foray into Denver radio either. Mason has previously been a host on Mile High Sports Radio and the defunct KDSP- AM.

“I’m thrilled to join The Fan team and add what I can to the efforts of building Denver’s premier online destination for Denver fans,” said Mason. “Being tasked with replacing a legend like John Clayton is a responsibility I take very seriously, and I’m honored The Fan has entrusted me with this opportunity.”

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