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
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.