Can The Ringer thrive outside the ESPN mothership?

June 16, 2016

It is time to see if that old real estate adage, “Location, location, location” applies to Bill Simmons.

Simmons believes it won’t when it comes to his new site, The Ringer. This effort, dubbed Grantland 2.0 by observers, recently made its debut as part of his mortal quest to show he can reach a mass audience without the power of ESPN.

Simmons contends he and The Ringer can do just fine without a platform like that had 104 million unique visitors in April. In May, he struck a defiant tone with tweets to his 4.95 million Twitter followers.

Motherships are overrated? Simmons might be overstating things a bit here. Ryan Glasspiegel of The Big Lead points out that Simmons was well-served by the ESPN mothership:

Does he not realize that 15 years of exposure at ESPN contributed to his brand recognizance for distributing his podcast, and building the publishing cachet attractive to investors?

Indeed, as different and as groundbreaking as his column was, if it ran on some random blog created in someone’s basement, he wouldn’t be the same Bill Simmons he is today. Even he knows that.

So it seems somewhat ludicrous to say “Motherships are overrated.” Grantland had the best location in sports media with

If you are on a platform that has 104 million unique visitors in a month, there’s a chance you can get a significant portion of them who come for the latest in baseball to check out a Grantland story that was promoted on the homepage.

Think of it this way: How many times do you go to Costco to get steak for a barbecue and wind up spending $634.00 on other stuff. True story, that’s what we did last Saturday. The same dynamic holds true for a colossus like All it takes is for a headline to catch your eye.

Simmons’ The Ringer is the equivalent of leaving the busiest shopping center in the world for a standalone place in town. Will people find it?

Well, it helps that Simmons’ name remains the one constant between with Grantland and The Ringer. He has built a strong franchise, and with nearly 5 million Twitter followers, he has a terrific platform to promote his new site. Plus, he’s set to debut his new HBO show, “Any Given Wednesday,” next week.

Simmons has reason to be somewhat cocky, given the performance of his BS podcasts in its post ESPN-life with more than 50 million downloads. That is an impressive number. Yet it remains to be seen if all that mass translates into big, or even sustainable, numbers for The Ringer. Simmons hopes this statement carries the day: If you have good content, people are going to find you.

The top executives of The Ringer are taking great pains to say they aren’t producing another Grantland. In an interview with the Washington Post, Ringer editor Sean Fennessey stressed that this new site isn’t a sequel.

“I’m really excited that people care about Grantland, but this is a very different project,” Fennessey said.

Fennessey, though, comes over from Grantland. Simmons recently put up this post:

So if it looks like Grantland and smells like Grantland, how are they different? The Ringer is mostly about sports, but, like Grantland, it meanders into pop culture. Fennessey says the site also places more of a premium on tech and politics.

And anyway, is another Grantland such a bad thing?

From a sports media perspective, the always-superb Bryan Curtis, who was at Grantland, is on board with The Ringer. He already has contributed two terrific stories: The media and Muhammad Ali and a revealing profile of Joe Buck.

Surely, The Ringer will produce a high level of work. Then again, there hardly is a shortage of quality in sports media these days. The competition for eyeballs is intense. And for The Ringer, that includes ESPN’s new The Undefeated, a site focused on sports, race and culture.

The Undefeated will be riding on ESPN’s powerful mothership. Meanwhile, Simmons’ The Ringer is venturing out on its own.

Simmons is confident for now. But at some point, he, along with everyone else, will find out if motherships are truly overrated.