In the five short months since ESPN president John Skipper bounced Grantland founder and boss Bill Simmons out of ESPN, many on the Grantland staff have experienced five long months of chaos and aftershock. Last week saw the exodus of five key Grantland editorial figures, and that followed the departure in September of Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Wesley Morris, who just last year, turned down a job offer from The New York Times to continue working at Simmons’s side. Morris is now critic at large at The New York Times.
If that wasn’t enough, multiple sources have confirmed that one of the staffers who left, deputy editor Sean Fennessey, was offered Simmons’s old job as Grantland’s editor in chief, the post currently held by Chris Connelly. Fennessey turned ESPN down, deciding instead to join Simmons in a new digital venture, along with other ex-Grantlanders Juliet Litman, Mallory Rubin, and Chris Ryan. Dan Fierman also left to serve as vice president and editorial director of MTV News.
For an ESPN management team that has been struggling to find the right moves in the aftermath of the Simmons explosion, Fennessy’s “thanks but no thanks” has to be a frustrating, and arguably humiliating, rejection. Despite declarations of support from Bristol Central, it leaves Grantland facing more uncertainty than ever.
Discussions on background with Grantland staffers past and present (ESPN executives associated with Grantland declined to talk on the record or on background for this column) reveal that the site is beset by a climate of fear, a cycle of mistrust, and a belief amongst several that staff are “treated like children.” An overall lack of communication with management has been beyond frustrating for the staff. Many heard about Connelly’s appointment on their Twitter feeds—precisely where Simmons had learned of his dismissal.
Since its 2011 founding, Grantland has served as a channel for Simmons to expand the Grantland staff’s distinctive point of view to journalism and criticism, a no-fear zone within the ESPN empire. That privileged position can safely be considered history. There is fear now, not only for the survival of the staff—with still more departures rumored imminent—but also for the survival of Grantland itself, unthinkable as that may have seemed even a year ago. Staff-wide angst continues to grow despite a Herculean effort by ESPN to dispense metrics suggesting traffic on the site is stronger than ever, implicitly arguing that Simmons’s departure had little effect on the almighty numbers.
But interpreting metrics for Grantland is a total quagmire, because there are simply too many ways of slanting the stats—e.g., sourcing, ignoring how often stories were featured on the ESPN.com home page, visibility on the mobile app, etc. ESPN management and staunch Simmons defenders could both take turns in front of a jury and make compelling cases that things are either better or worse than before Simmons’s departure.
The arguments over metrics are reminiscent of the restive squabbling earlier this summer about whether or not the site was profitable. On several occasions, Skipper reassured Grantland personnel concerned about profitability, telling them not to worry about dollars and that what ESPN needed was “soul,” along with “other things that matter,” apart from scores and statistics. (Speaking onstage at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit last week, Simmons conceded that Grantland was not profitable: “It was probably like right around even.”)
Over the last two years, ESPN management had heard from Simmons many times that he didn’t think they were selling Grantland aggressively enough. ESPN sources place annual ad revenue for Grantland at about $6 million a year, including the Web site and a Simmons podcast, but since his departure from ESPN, Simmons has rolled out his own (and his owned) podcast, which, according to an industry expert, is probably worth north of $5 million in yearly revenue alone. Thus Simmons is now making for himself roughly the same as Grantland’s entire annual ad-sales revenue.
The key and practical predicament now is whether ESPN should continue with the site at all. Grantland was never the kind of enterprise ESPN would have attempted were it not for the fact that Simmons—for a while, ESPN’s highest-paid employee—wanted it. And in the beginning of the site, ESPN executives John Skipper, John Walsh, and Rob King paid a great deal of attention to it, and their star.
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Lauren Shehadi: Ernie Johnson Is The Model For Studio Hosts
“To me, he’s the greatest in-studio host. What he does best is facilitate greatness.”
In addition to her job at MLB Network being a host on MLB Central, Lauren Shehadi is hosting TBS’s Tuesday night baseball coverage each week with Jimmy Rollins, Curtis Granderson, and Pedro Martinez. The Tuesday night games are new for Turner Sports this year after doing only Sunday games during the regular season in addition to the network’s postseason coverage.
Shehadi was a guest on The Kyle Koster Show this week and she was asked what the goal was for her with the MLB on TBS Tuesday broadcasts. She takes a lot of inspiration from what she sees on Inside The NBA on TNT.
“I always think about Ernie Johnson in the same building. To me, he’s the greatest in-studio host. What he does best is facilitate greatness. He gets the most out of Shaq and Kenny [Smith] and Charles [Barkley]. If there’s no ego involved, it’s all about how the show can be so great.
“You look at him and you think how can I be like that? You want to be authentic and be yourself, but in the sense of getting the best out of your guys and girls that you talk to every day. That was my goal going in, Be authentic.”
Shehadi said she gets to spend a lot of time with Johnson and the rest of the Turner Sports crew. Tuesday nights tend to be something of a corporate family reunion.
“On Tuesday nights, we all sit in a room and we all watch NBA, MLB, and NHL when it’s on. We get Shaq’s reaction to Sandy Alcantara’s slider in real-time. What we see from Inside The NBA is when they do demos. When they get up and walk and they are casual and they do little bits, that’s what we try to take to our show, but we want it to feel authentic.”
When Shehadi isn’t hosting Turner Sports’ baseball coverage, she is a part of MLB Central every weekday on MLB Network with Robert Flores and Mark DeRosa. On that show, the goal for her is how to make baseball relatable to everyone:
“That’s the sweet spot of MLB Central. No question is silly. Nobody is smarter than the other. We laugh at ourselves. We laugh at each other. It is just a fun 4 hours, grab your coffee, let’s talk the game, let’s laugh because life is short and baseball is fun.”
AT&T Sportsnet’s Kelsey Wingert Shows Off Stitches After Being Drilled Line Drive
“The veteran reporter is expected to get married in June. Doctors are “hoping” the scar doesn’t effect her big day.”
Baseball reporters at the regional level have some of the toughest jobs in all of sports. Not only do they cover each for all 162 games, but there’s always the potential for getting drilled by a foul ball.
While all MLB ball clubs have expanded their netting this season to protect fans sitting close to the field, Rockies sideline reporter Kelsey Wingert suffered a nasty injury via a foul ball earlier this week.
A scary incident took place on Monday’s outing against the Rockies and San Francisco Giants at Coors Field in Denver. In the ninth inning, Giants outfielder Austin Slater hit a foul ball off Daniel Bard, with the ball heading straight to the dugout, right where Wingert was standing while reporting for AT&T Sportsnet.
After getting attended to by the Rockies medical staff and walking it off, giving fans a “thumbs up,” Wingert ended up having to go to the hospital where she received multiple stitches to her forehead.
The 29-year-old reporter took to Twitter on Wednesday to express her gratitude towards the Rockies organization and AT&T Sportsnet general manager David Woodman, who along with his wife Paula, stayed by her side at the hospital.
“I had a CT scan to make sure there was no internal bleeding or fractures and all came back clear. Thank God,” Wingert said on Twitter Wednesday. “The stitches will have to come out in a week. I’m very lucky it wasn’t worse. It was just really scary and bummed me out given the circumstances.”
You would think this was the first time Wingert got hit by a ball but back in 2018 while working for Fox Sports and the Atlanta Braves she was struck by a foul ball while standing near a camera past the Braves dugout, resulting in a fractured eye socket.
Wingert retweeted a photo taken of her black eye after returning home where she made light of what could’ve been an awful occurrence.
While recovering from her wound, Wingert will be taking a few games off. The veteran reporter is expected to get married in June. Doctors are “hoping” the scar doesn’t effect her big day.
Greg Olsen To Partner With Kevin Burkhardt For Super Bowl LVII
“Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.”
The deal isn’t done yet, but Andrew Marchand of The New York Post reports that Greg Olsen is on his way to joining Kevin Burkhardt in the top NFL booth at FOX. Although Tom Brady will take over that role after he retires and leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Olsen will spend at least this season on FOX’s A-Team.
Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.
Earlier this year, the former Panther told The Mac Attack on WFNZ in Charlotte that he was disappointed he didn’t get to call a postseason game. He will more than make up for that in 2023. As Burkhardt’s partner, Olsen is in line to be the analyst for Super Bowl LVII.
Marchand writes that we could get a taste of what is to come in February. He speculates that if the Buccaneers are not in the Super Bowl, it is possible Tom Brady could make his FOX debut, either in the booth alongside Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen or as part of the network’s studio show.
Now, FOX has to make a decision about it’s number 2 NFL booth. According to Marchand, Drew Brees is a candidate to be the analyst. Adam Amin and Joe Davis have emerged as candidates for the play-by-play role.