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ESPN Shutters Grantland, Continuing Recent Trend

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ESPN has announced that it is closing its Grantland site, effective immediately.

Effective immediately we are suspending the publication of Grantland.  After careful consideration, we have decided to direct our time and energy going forward to projects that we believe will have a broader and more significant impact across our enterprise.

Grantland distinguished itself with quality writing, smart ideas, original thinking and fun.  We are grateful to those who made it so.  Bill Simmons was passionately committed to the site and proved to be an outstanding editor with a real eye for talent.

They parted ways with Simmons months ago and have also shed several other high-profile show hosts, including Keith Olbermann and Colin Cowherd. Thus far, they’re pledging to continue Grantland clones 538 (run by NYT import Nate Silver) and The Undefeated (originally a Jason Whitlock joint but under new management. One suspects they won’t last long.

ESPN is going through many of the woes impacting journalism in general in recent years. On the very same day Grantland was closed, we learned that The Los Angeles Times is undergoing another round of buyouts and two Philadelphia papers are consolidating and paring staff. Paying talented writers and on-air personalities is expensive and yet it’s increasingly difficult to generate revenue to pay for it.

ESPN seemed immune to all of that because live sports is arguably the sole remaining non-commodity in the business.  Once news is reported, it’s really easy for other outlets, including blogs like OTB, to repackage it at a fraction of the cost. Televised comedy and drama program remains highly watched but an increasing number of viewers are willing to wait until it becomes available for commercial-free streaming. Sports remains different—most of us want to see events live and share them communally, or at least watch then in near-real-time via DVR delay.  But with cord-cutting an increasing phenomenon, especially among the under-40 set, even sports networks are having trouble.

I’ve long thought that ESPN compounded their problems with poor management. Most notably, their practice of scooping up every semi-famous athlete, coach, or front office man upon their retirement from the game struck me as madness. We don’t need 97 commentators on a two-hour pre-game studio show. That’s way too much overhead for the return on investment.

At the same time, though, the very best writers and show hosts aren’t a commodity.  I really haven’t paid much attention to Grantland since Simmons’ departure and I’ve followed Cowherd to Fox. The talent, not the platform, is the attraction.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Trumwill says:

    Isn’t this mostly a product of them losing a bunch of editors to Simmons all at once? I mean, I guess they could have restocked, but it seems like this was a reaction rather than something the upped and chose to do.

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  2. MBunge says:

    Everytime there’s a discussion on the changing media landscape, you always hear people who fanatically defend the current trends as “progress,” mostly because the trends appear to benefit their preferences in the short run. But there’s no way to spin shutting down Grantland as good for anyone except ESPN’s bottom line.

    It’s becoming pretty clear that a lot of things we enjoy in our current media environment are going to disappear because none of us really want to pay for them.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  3. Tyrell says:

    A lot of these kind of programs may hit the dust. The major entertainment networks (NBC,ABC, CBS, Fox, Warner, and Disney are much better at producing quality programs and series. ESPN and some of the others need to stick to their niche.

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  4. nickp says:

    If HBO is smart (which they appear to be), they’d try to hire every Grantland employee and re-launch a new name

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. Trumwill says:

    @nickp: The writers are under contract. My understanding is that the (best) editors were hired away and that’s why Grantland is being retired.

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  6. DrDaveT says:

    Thus far, they’re pledging to continue Grantland clones 538 (run by NYT import Nate Silver) and The Undefeated (originally a Jason Whitlock joint but under new management.

    I will readily admit to never having heard of Grantland, so I am somewhat confused at hearing the (to me) much more famous 538 referred to as a “Grantland clone”, and even more confused by hearing Nate Silver referred to as a “NYT import”. What am I missing here? Silver and 538 were famous long before ESPN or NYT had anything to do with either…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  7. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: Grantland was ESPN’s first foray into a niche sub-magazine built around a single editorial personality. 538 was the second. Silver had built a significant following on his Blogspot site but his move to the NYT was his gateway to the big time. ESPN threw a lot of money at him to build a stats-based megasite, but it’s only been so-so. The 538 politics site that you recall is but a tiny portion of the new site.

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  8. al-Ameda says:

    ESPN is such a Frat House operation.

    They shutter Grantland, which had some of the very best, in fact, excellent sportswriting and they keep on bozos like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. I’m sure it comes down to cost cutting and their divorce from Bill Simmons, but closing out Grantland really points to lower quality content at ESPN.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    The 538 politics site that you recall is but a tiny portion of the new site.

    No, I’m familiar with the current version of the FiveThirtyEight site — I just didn’t realize it had anything to do with anything called “Grantland” or anyone called “Simmons”. I might have known in the back of my brain somewhere that ESPN was involved.

    Thanks for the info.

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  10. Console says:

    Grantland was definitely a vanity project. And it probably wasn’t a money maker, so it was sort of destined to go under or be absorbed into something else.

    But what a vanity project… you could go there and get some of the best sports writing, but you could also get the best film criticism, the best videogame criticism, or a cultural piece as affecting as this one: http://grantland.com/features/ferguson-missouri-protest-michael-brown-murder-police/

    It would be nice if there was a better market for just letting talented writers do their thing.

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  11. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @MBunge: This! Thanks for the insightful comment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. James Pearce says:

    @MBunge:

    It’s becoming pretty clear that a lot of things we enjoy in our current media environment are going to disappear because none of us really want to pay for them.

    Grantland’s content was never offered to an audience of paying customers, so we’ll never really know who would have paid for it or how well it would have done.

    If I were Bill Simmons, my new venture would focus on convincing the reader, rather than a corporate sponsor, to pay for the content. This new venture would exist in the app world with easily-processed recurring payments. The website would point to the various ways in which you can buy the app, but would not actually host any of the content. (Or maybe it would….with a login.)

    As it is, Simmons is doing the next best thing. He’s going to HBO.

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