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Does Simmons Want Out of ESPN?

Jason Barrett




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, 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

Jonathan Zaslow No Longer With WQAM

An attempt to reach out to Zaslow for comment went unanswered.





WQAM midday host Jonathan Zaslow is no longer with WQAM in Miami.

The radio station has removed his show from the website and references to him and his normal 10a-2p ET midday timeslot program have been scrubbed from the station website.

Zaslow tweeted at 5:19p ET confirming the news.

Whether or not this has any effect on his involvement with the Miami Heat broadcasts is unknown as of now.

Barry Jackson, a veteran journalist with the Miami Herald, reports that 790 The Ticket morning hosts Brendan Tobin and Leroy Hoard will move to that 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. WQAM slot during the week of Oct. 3.

In more station movement, Joe Rose’s WQAM morning show with Zach Krantz now will be simulcast on The Ticket, replacing the Tobin/Hoard program. Audacy, which owns both WQAM and The Ticket, also simulcast Marc Hochman’s and Channing Crowder’s afternoon show.

Zaslow had been with 790 the Ticket since 2004. He was transitioned from Audacy-owned 790 to sister station AM 560 Sports WQAM last October. During his tenure he has worked with a number of established local voices including Joy Taylor, Amber Wilson, Brett Romberg, and Brendan Tobin amongst others.

WQAM has gone thru a number of changes, including a rebranding effort to call the station “560 The Joe”. That ended last year with the station returning to the AM 560 Sports WQAM brand listeners were more familiar with. What they have planned next in Zaslow’s timeslot is unclear but local listeners will likely get some answers next week.

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Sports Radio News

Vanessa Richardson Named Houston Rockets Sideline Reporter, Paul Gallant to Host Solo on ESPN 97.5

Vanessa Richardson will be on the sidelines for the Houston Rockets and Paul Gallant will host solo show on ESPN 97.5.




Vanessa and Gallant

Changes are taking place in Houston sports media. First, the Houston Rockets will have a new television sideline reporter this season, and she’s a familiar name to Houston sports fans.

Vanessa Richardson, the now former co-host of ESPN 97.5’s Vanessa and Gallant, revealed that she will be on the sidelines for the NBA franchise covering the team for AT&T SportsNet Southwest.

She tweeted the news saying, “Elated to be the new Houston Rockets sideline reporter! I can’t wait to travel the country & share the stories of this dynamic team during 80+ games on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. I’ll continue to fill-in as a host/reporter for Astros broadcasts as well.”

Richardson’s co-host, Paul Gallant, tweeted that with Richardson leaving the show for the Rockets sideline gig, Vanessa and Gallant will become the Paul Gallant Show. The solo show led by Gallant begins Monday September 26th.

“We’re excited to have Paul host his own show”, said Todd Farquharson, General Manager of ESPN 97.5 & 92.5.  “He’s super creative, energetic, and likeable.  He’ll get the audience involved and have fun.”

Paul commented, “You know what I’ve always loved about sports talk radio?  That it’s interactive.  Whether through a phone call, text message, tweet or on Twitch, it’s the best place for sports fans to come together and celebrate…or vent.  And that’s what The Paul Gallant Show is going to be…Houston’s platform to talk about its teams. THE most interactive sports talk show in Houston.”

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Sports Radio News

Ken Carman: Al Michaels ‘Feels Untethered’ On Amazon Prime Video

“The thing that stuck out was Kirk Herbstreit ripping the elf,” said Carman. “Don’t be ripping Brownie the Elf, man.”





The Cleveland Browns defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers during Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video. 92.3 The Fan morning host Ken Carman applauded Al Michaels for his performance during the presentation.

“Al Michaels feels untethered for the first time. He’s not network television anymore and he can say whatever he wants. We interviewed him on the pregame show and I was nervous,” Carman said.

“He’s a legend,” co-host Anthony Lima added.

During the final play of the game, the Steelers fumbled a lateral into the endzone which the Browns recovered to make the final score 29-17. Michaels said “that may be meaningful to some of you. And you know who I mean”, alluding to people who had placed wagers on the game.

Carman, who hosts two-hours of pre-game coverage on the Browns Radio Network, continued to discuss how nervous he was interviewing Michaels. He also discussed how impressive Amazon’s behind-the-scenes production was, pointing out the only football broadcast with more cameras is the Super Bowl. More than 400 people work behind the scenes for Amazon Prime Video.

“The thing that stuck out was Kirk Herbstreit ripping the elf,” said Carman. “Don’t be ripping Brownie the Elf, man.”

Carman later said people angry that Michaels misspoke by saying the Pro Football Hall of Fame is “down I-71” instead of I-77 were unreasonable, and joked “Al Michaels hasn’t been on a highway in 20 years”.

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