Sports TV News
Can ESPN Solve Its Grantland Problems?
In the five short months since ESPN president John Skipper bounced Grantland founder and boss Bill Simmons out of ESPN, many on the Grantland staff have experienced five long months of chaos and aftershock. Last week saw the exodus of five key Grantland editorial figures, and that followed the departure in September of Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Wesley Morris, who just last year, turned down a job offer from The New York Times to continue working at Simmons’s side. Morris is now critic at large at The New York Times.
If that wasn’t enough, multiple sources have confirmed that one of the staffers who left, deputy editor Sean Fennessey, was offered Simmons’s old job as Grantland’s editor in chief, the post currently held by Chris Connelly. Fennessey turned ESPN down, deciding instead to join Simmons in a new digital venture, along with other ex-Grantlanders Juliet Litman, Mallory Rubin, and Chris Ryan. Dan Fierman also left to serve as vice president and editorial director of MTV News.
For an ESPN management team that has been struggling to find the right moves in the aftermath of the Simmons explosion, Fennessy’s “thanks but no thanks” has to be a frustrating, and arguably humiliating, rejection. Despite declarations of support from Bristol Central, it leaves Grantland facing more uncertainty than ever.
Discussions on background with Grantland staffers past and present (ESPN executives associated with Grantland declined to talk on the record or on background for this column) reveal that the site is beset by a climate of fear, a cycle of mistrust, and a belief amongst several that staff are “treated like children.” An overall lack of communication with management has been beyond frustrating for the staff. Many heard about Connelly’s appointment on their Twitter feeds—precisely where Simmons had learned of his dismissal.
Since its 2011 founding, Grantland has served as a channel for Simmons to expand the Grantland staff’s distinctive point of view to journalism and criticism, a no-fear zone within the ESPN empire. That privileged position can safely be considered history. There is fear now, not only for the survival of the staff—with still more departures rumored imminent—but also for the survival of Grantland itself, unthinkable as that may have seemed even a year ago. Staff-wide angst continues to grow despite a Herculean effort by ESPN to dispense metrics suggesting traffic on the site is stronger than ever, implicitly arguing that Simmons’s departure had little effect on the almighty numbers.
But interpreting metrics for Grantland is a total quagmire, because there are simply too many ways of slanting the stats—e.g., sourcing, ignoring how often stories were featured on the ESPN.com home page, visibility on the mobile app, etc. ESPN management and staunch Simmons defenders could both take turns in front of a jury and make compelling cases that things are either better or worse than before Simmons’s departure.
The arguments over metrics are reminiscent of the restive squabbling earlier this summer about whether or not the site was profitable. On several occasions, Skipper reassured Grantland personnel concerned about profitability, telling them not to worry about dollars and that what ESPN needed was “soul,” along with “other things that matter,” apart from scores and statistics. (Speaking onstage at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit last week, Simmons conceded that Grantland was not profitable: “It was probably like right around even.”)
Over the last two years, ESPN management had heard from Simmons many times that he didn’t think they were selling Grantland aggressively enough. ESPN sources place annual ad revenue for Grantland at about $6 million a year, including the Web site and a Simmons podcast, but since his departure from ESPN, Simmons has rolled out his own (and his owned) podcast, which, according to an industry expert, is probably worth north of $5 million in yearly revenue alone. Thus Simmons is now making for himself roughly the same as Grantland’s entire annual ad-sales revenue.
The key and practical predicament now is whether ESPN should continue with the site at all. Grantland was never the kind of enterprise ESPN would have attempted were it not for the fact that Simmons—for a while, ESPN’s highest-paid employee—wanted it. And in the beginning of the site, ESPN executives John Skipper, John Walsh, and Rob King paid a great deal of attention to it, and their star.
To read the rest of the article visit Vanity Fair where it was originally published
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Sports TV News
JJ Redick: ESPN Sells The NBA As ‘Only 5 or 6 Teams Matter’
“To me, this could be the best thing possible for the NBA and its fans because we have not done a good job of selling the rest of the NBA.”
Following the Los Angeles Lakers’ elimination from the NBA Playoffs, the matchup between the Association’s two most accomplished clubs – the Lakers and Boston Celtics – is no longer a possibility. On Tuesday morning’s edition of First Take on ESPN, JJ Redick suggested how it would be a seminal occurrence for the NBA to have teams from smaller media markets square off for the championship, familiarizing basketball and sports fans at large with new teams and players.
“We somehow have sold the NBA as a league where only five or six teams matter and a league where only five or six players matter,” Redick said on the program. “To me, this could be a watershed moment for the NBA. To me, this could be the best thing possible for the NBA and its fans because we have not done a good job of selling the rest of the NBA.”
Redick pointed out how after Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the talking points were focused on the Lakers and what the team needed to do to have a legitimate chance to win the series. He reminded people that Nuggets center and two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokić had his third consecutive triple-double, posting an unparalleled statline of 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists.
“We don’t do a good job of selling what the NBA is, which is 30 teams, 450 players [and] multiple superstars,” Redick said. “The fact that people are now being like, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize Nikola Jokić was good’…. Well, let’s put him on TV more!”
Stephen A. Smith told Redick that the NBA has not established its games akin to “events” as much as the National Football League. Smith expressed how he has seen pastors change the time of their Sunday sermons in order to ensure they were home to watch professional football games. While football is very much a team sport, Smith offered Redick his perspective that basketball is “built on superstars.”
“The NBA became what it is because it gravitated to individuality,” Smith said. “Even though the Boston Celtics were a great team and the Lakers ultimately were a great team, they sold Magic and Bird. Michael Jordan comes along – they sold Michael Jordan, and obviously, all the names that we don’t need to get into followed. They sold the individual.”
Smith addressed Redick and accentuated the incredible feats of Jokić, but part of what has made him one of sports media’s most prominent personalities is by having a shrewd perception of his audience. ESPN and other major sports networks are fully aware that Los Angeles supersedes Denver in terms of media consumers, and that the Lakers are recognized as an international brand.
“I’m not where I am today if it were not for the NBA,” Smith said. “Basketball has done wonders for my life, and I’m incredibly grateful and thankful, and the NBA will always be promoted on this show. Please understand in the same breath, we also have to pay attention to what the audience wants to hear too.”
Sports TV News
Diamond Sports Group In Danger of Losing Padres TV Rights
“The company has a grace period to deliver the payment that runs through May 30.”
Diamond Sports Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March after failing to make a scheduled debt payment to its creditors. At the time, the company had more than $8 billion in debt and was commencing a process of restructuring. Yet the company stated its Ballys-branded regional sports networks would continue to operate as usual. Major League Baseball decided to take action though and establish a plan to broadcast games locally if the company missed a rights payment.
Now, it is looking that is exactly what will happen. Diamond missed a payment to the San Diego Padres last week, meaning the team’s media rights could soon be the property of Major League Baseball. The company has a grace period to deliver the payment that runs through May 30. If it were to miss the payment, it would mark the first time it will relinquish a contract in this way.
“Despite Diamond’s economic situation, there is every expectation that they will continue televising all games they are committed to during the bankruptcy process,” Major League Baseball said in a statement. “Major League Baseball is ready to produce and distribute games to fans in their local markets in the event that Diamond or any other regional sports network is unable to do so as required by their agreement with our club.”
The company’s current contract with the San Diego Padres has nine years and approximately $540 million remaining with an escalator clause built into the deal. This means that the final year of the deal would cost Diamond Sports Group more than $70 million in rights fees, and while the team is in the top five for television deliveries, the entity perhaps may not view it as sustainable. The momentum headed in this direction was first reported by John Ourand of Sports Business Journal.
The company has also pushed Major League Baseball teams to agree to deals to stream the games in order to recoup lost cable revenue. By being granted the rights to stream games directly to consumers, Diamond Sports Group has vowed to pay the rights fees it owes to nine MLB teams. The company currently has the streaming rights for just five of the 14 major league clubs on its regional sports networks.
Some industry experts believe Diamond Sports Group is utilizing this stalemate to be able to exit media rights deals that are losing the company money. For example, the Diamondbacks’ media rights contract garners an annual payment of about $68 million while amassing the second-lowest local television ratings of any Major League Baseball team.
On May 31, a bankruptcy judge will establish how much money Diamond Sports Group owes its clubs for media rights fees while in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and whether it can continue broadcasting games at this time. The Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Guardians and Minnesota Twins filed emergency motions urging the judge to coerce Diamond Sports Group to make their payments. If the company is unable to distribute payments, the emergency motion calls for teams to issue default notices to the regional sports networks, which could permit the termination of media rights contracts.
Sports TV News
Devin McCourty Joining Football Night in America on NBC
“I’m very grateful for this opportunity from NBC Sports to learn from great individuals, chase new goals and provide viewers with my thoughts on the biggest games every week.”
NBC Sports has enhanced its roster of football analysts with the signing of Devin McCourty. He will join the cast of Football Night in America leading up to each week’s broadcast of Sunday Night Football.
McCourty is a three-time Super Bowl champion and played his entire 13-year career as a defensive back with the New England Patriots, and has the record for most career playoff games started by a defensive player.
“It’s rare when you have the opportunity to add a three-time Super Bowl-winner to your team, and we’re excited to welcome Devin McCourty to Football Night following an incredible NFL career,” said Sam Flood, executive producer and president of production at NBC Sports. “Devin is a leader in every sense of the word, both on and off the field, and his dynamic personality and passion for the game will be a great addition to the show.”
McCourty’s twin brother, Jason, currently works on the cast of NFL Network’s Good Morning Football, and the two co-hosted a podcast together while playing called Double Coverage. Devin was a guest host on Good Morning Football earlier in the season and also contributed to pregame coverage on The NFL Today and NFL Draft content for CBS Sports.
“I’m excited to be a rookie on the best team in America again,” McCourty said in a statement. “I’m very grateful for this opportunity from NBC Sports to learn from great individuals, chase new goals and provide viewers with my thoughts on the biggest games every week.”