We discussed last week how ESPN’s affinity sites — Grantland, 538, and The Undefeated — were in danger, and seven days later that has come to pass. ESPN’s first foray into high-brow long-form sports coverage, Grantland, has been shutdown effective immediately. The site, which struggled to generate profits with Bill Simmons at the helm has been struggling even more since Simmons contract was not renewed by ESPN.
ESPN released the following statement this morning: “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.”
This doesn’t mean that all of Grantland’s talent will be leaving ESPN. Surely the worldwide leader would like to keep some of its more talented writers such as Zach Lowe and Bill Barnwell. Contributors who focus more on entertainment and pop culture may not find a fit at ESPN as they will try and streamline their offerings. ESPN will most likely shift writers they hope to keep to ESPN Magazine or toward the sports category the writer covers on ESPN.com.
The move makes business sense. Grantland was Bill Simmons’ pet project and without him there, keeping it didn’t make sense from a content or fiscal standpoint. It also didn’t help that a few contributors had already defected and some, such as Bill Barnwell and Robert Mays sly referenced –without outright announcing — their frustrations through tweets and podcasts.
Grantland still has a pretty strong indie/cult following, but when ESPN had to make decisions on where it should cut costs, the affinity sites made sense. As ESPN continues to trim down the other sites could be in danger as well. Sometimes companies need to forget about sunk costs and move on and that is what the folks in Bristol have done.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.