In the 14 years that Bill Simmons has worked at ESPN, he’s helped to create some of the giant corporation’s most beloved properties. For years, he kept Page 2 afloat when it was the home for his massively popular columns. He founded Grantland in 2011 to be a semi-independent home for himself and others he hired to write about sports and pop culture in longer, more in-depth fashion. His B.S. Report has long been the most popular podcast in ESPN’s network, and the 30 For 30 series of documentary films he started (and for which he serves as executive producer) have won ESPN a Peabody Award and two Emmys.
All of those properties were at least co-created by Bill Simmons but owned by ESPN, and now the two are parting ways, presumably when Simmons’ contract expires in September. Network President John Skipper has already said that Grantland will continue without Simmons, but who takes over? Will it look the same? And what of the other Simmons-related content that ESPN’s produced?
In the New York Times‘ article on Simmons’ departure, Skipper said “[Grantland] long ago went from being a Bill Simmons site to one that can stand on its own.” This is true — Grantland’s contributor page lists a staggering 55 names (including Simmons) as of today. But since Simmons personally brought on many of them, it remains to be seen if the number will drop just to 54, or lower. Only a couple of Grantland writers have said anything on Twitter:
Obviously, they (and the silent majority) are still digesting what seemingly came as a shock to them. Simmons has yet to say anything publicly, and once we know his next step, we’ll have some idea of how likely any current Grantland contributors are to follow him. But it’s tough to make a living writing on the Internet, and it’s hard to get bigger than ESPN, so a talent exodus is not the most likely scenario, but if it happens, the roster will be refilled.