The defections at Grantland continued today, as popular staff writer Rembert Browne bolted for New York, adding his name to the growing list of staffers who have left the site since the network cut ties with founder Bill Simmons.
With a staff exodus underway, a clearer picture of the site’s last year of operations has emerged. Though Simmons has only technically been out at Grantland for five months, many began to see the writing on the wall last fall, when Simmons was suspended for calling N.F.L. commissioner Roger Goodell a liar on his podcast.
Insiders at Grantland point out that in the aftermath of Simmons’s suspension, executive vice president Marie Donoghue told the staff that they “shouldn’t worry, because whether or not Bill stays at ESPN, the company is committed to Grantland.”
ESPN management says that Donoghue, who oversaw the site, made that statement because staffers were specifically asking whether they should fear for their jobs, “given Bill’s behavior.” She was trying to calm them down, ESPN brass points out, she wasn’t trying to suggest she and the network didn’t want Bill to stay.
Several key Grantland members, however, took it another way. Says one, “That was the tipping-point moment. What do you mean if Bill’s here or not? Bill is Grantland! What are you talking about? Bristol never recovered with the staff after that.”
Digging deeper into the steaming remains of the ESPN-Simmons divorce, it becomes clear that while the breakup may have been bloody, costly, and emotionally exhausting, it was also certainly worthwhile for both sides.
Over 48 tempestuous hours, in more than 15 conversations with current and former ESPN employees, current and former Grantland staffers, and current ESPN senior management, additional information has surfaced suggesting there were numerous areas of major conflict, and several more defined by personal animosity, fundamental misconceptions, and even accusations of sexism.
As ports of entry into this Byzantine world, we can look to three major stress points.
First: Simmons’s relationship with the rest of ESPN outside Grantland. There was no love lost between the two. During his last year at ESPN, many at the network believe, Simmons still respected and had warm feelings toward executives John Skipper, John Walsh, and several others at the company. It was equally evident to many that he resented the way he was treated by other executives and was largely dismissive of the way they conducted business.
A major fork in the road arose when Magic Johnson left NBA Countdown in 2013 and, Simmons’s associates believe, Bristol was spreading the story that Simmons was to blame, even as Simmons swore to co-workers that he had not put that in motion. Being blamed for Johnson’s departure enraged him, in fact. Try living in L.A. and being regarded as the guy who dumped Magic Johnson.
For ESPN’s part, the animosity was mutual. “Nobody at ESPN wanted to work with Simmons,” says a high-ranking executive. “He was loathed throughout the company. He kept up a long-running diatribe on how terrible it was to work here.”
There were also complaints that Simmons would not allow Grantland writers to contribute to ESPN.com or to the magazine—or, for a long time, to appear on any of ESPN’s TV shows. Some of that was true: The Grantland staff was intent on building the Grantland brand.
And, at least one executive complains—somewhat ironically, given his feelings toward Simmons—that Simmons seldom came to Bristol, but Simmons would tell the Grantland staff and others that it was hard for him to get to Bristol from the site’s Los Angeles headquarters, that he didn’t have the time, and that he didn’t think it necessary. He did, however, go at least once three years in a row, and traveled at least four times a year to New York, where he would meet with the network’s executives.
Nevertheless, bitterness was palpable and plentiful.
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Poll Data Shows Tepid Response To Tom Brady Joining FOX
“A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.”
FOX Sports reportedly signed Tom Brady to a 10-year deal worth $375 million to make the seven-time Super Bowl champion the new lead analyst for its top NFL broadcast once his playing career is over.
A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.
The poll said 2 in 5 NFL fans have a better opinion of FOX Sports following the deal, with 41% of NFL fans being at least somewhat more likely to watch a game with Brady as an analyst.
Data shows one-third of NFL fans think the deal Brady reportedly agreed to is worth about the same as its reported value.
That reaction could probably be described as “tepid”. That may be exactly what FOX expects and maybe all it wants.
Last week, Domonique Foxworth of ESPN suggested that the paycheck is less about what the network thinks Tom Brady means to viewers and more about showing the NFL that the network values its product.
FOX Not Interested In Joining Streaming Sports Wars
“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take?”
The CEO of FOX doesn’t plan on forking over billions of dollars to be people’s last choice for paid streaming services.
Lachlan Murdoch said at a time when more than 80% of American homes already have some kind of paid streaming service, it’s not worthwhile to jump on that train.
Amazon, Netflix and Disney+ typically account for the average streaming presence in a household.
“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take,” Murdoch said at a tech conference earlier this year. “And so the billions of dollars that’s being spent by multiple aspirants is all for that last position. And so we are extraordinarily — I want to say that — we’re happy to be sort of sitting on the sidelines.”
Murdoch told Benjamin Swinburne that when it comes to the NFL, FOX’s media rights are the same as CBS, NBC and ESPN. The main focus for the company remains on keeping games on TV.
“We don’t believe it helps us to put those rights under a streaming service or free on over-the-air. We think it’s very important that those rights remain exclusive to the broadcast environment,” Murdoch said.
FOX does stream games through its app, but it is only the games it is also carrying on its broadcast network or FS1.
NBA Draft To Get Simulcast From ESPN & ABC
“This follows the simulcast model ESPN and ABC have employed for several years with the NFL Draft.”
ESPN is set for the 2022 NBA Draft coming up on June 23 at 8 p.m. from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The network announced Wednesday the crews that will handle coverage on both ESPN and ABC.
ABC will broadcast the first round in primetime. Kevin Negandhi will host and will be joined by Stephen A. Smith, Chiney Ogwumike and Jalen Rose. Monica McNutt will be reporting and interviewing draftees.
This follows the simulcast model ESPN and ABC have employed for several years with the NFL Draft.
Malika Andrews will host both rounds for ESPN. Jay Bilas, Kendrick Perkins and Adrian Wojnarowski will share the set. Analysts Bobby Marks and Mike Schmitz will contribute.
“We’re thrilled that Malika Andrews will host this year’s ESPN presentation as she brings her well-documented, widespread skillset to our main set,” said David Roberts, head of NBA and Studio Production for ESPN. “The event will showcase the scope and depth of our NBA and college basketball talent roster with accomplished journalists and high-profile personalities across ESPN, ABC and ESPN Radio.”
ESPN will air a pre-draft red carpet show hosted by Cassidy Hubbarth from 5-6 p.m. Perkins and Richard Jefferson will also make appearances.