Bill Simmons hammers ESPN (again)

October 8, 2015
Category: Newsletters

Vanity Fair

Bill Simmons, the sportswriter and broadcaster who was bounced from ESPN, told a Vanity Fair gathering that the sports network avoided overt criticism of the National Football League.

“The way ESPN has covered the N.F.L. for the last year has been really shaky,” Simmons told the magazine’s “New Establishment” conference in San Francisco Wednesday during a panel in which he was joined by tennis legend John McEnroe.

He cited the domestic violence case involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, saying, “You didn’t really see it on ESPN. You saw it everywhere else. You start to say, ‘Wait a minute, this is their biggest partner. Are they holding back a little?’”

He criticized other networks in a similar vein. “They’re not going to criticize them because they need the [television] rights.”

Bob Ley, an ESPN stalwart, quickly tweeted a response to Simmons and said he was entitled to his own opinions, “not his own set of facts.”

Simmons, who has moved to HBO, was ambiguous as to whether his Grantland venture on ESPN was profitable.

“It was probably like right around even,” he said. “This is probably going to sound like sour grapes, but so much of it has to do with the priorities around how you sell stuff, and we were a boutique site . . . Our issue is that, when you’re a small site, you have to do quick deals. We didn’t make any money off podcasts, which is crazy to me . . . that was definitely part of the reason I started having issues.”

He reiterated his clear frustrations with the economics of Grantland, and “the ways we could have made money” (like selling studio sponsorships) and did not. At the same time, he conceded that the network also didn’t get sufficient credit for various innovations, while also indicating his satisfaction over the very fine “30 for 30” documentary series of which he was a creator and that remains at the network.

Correction: A previous version of this story cited the Ray Rice “sexual assault” case. In fact, the incident involved domestic violence. Also, in an earlier version, the headline suggested that Bill Simmons affirmatively indicated that Grantland was not profitable. He said that it was “probably around even” but then detailed frustrations with ESPN’s declining to pursue what he deemed to be money-making ventures related to Grantland.