ESPN, which has gone through a radical reordering of its staff and assets these past few weeks, announced on Friday that it would be shuttering its pop-culture and sports website, Grantland.
The site, founded by Bill Simmons in 2011, had been on life support the last five months after ESPN refused to renew Simmons’s contract. A recent exodus of Grantland’s brain trust to Simmons’s new HBO project made things even worse. According to Re/code, Grantland staffers found out the site was finally dead “a minute before the release went out” on Friday.
ESPN president John Skipper had been publicly saying the site’s future was nothing to worry about for quite awhile despite internal worries; a few weeks ago he said in a statement that "ESPN remains committed to Grantland and we have a strong team in place." As Vanity Fair put it, Skipper told worried Grantland staff that money was no issue, "what ESPN needed was ‘soul,’ along with ‘other things that matter,’ apart from ‘scores’ and ‘statistics.’" The final weeks, in other words, have been a nightmare for the beleaguered staff.
Simmons, in a tweet shortly after ESPN’s announcement, called the move “simply appalling.”
Despite the head games, ESPN will still keep some of the 40 affected Grantland writers on staff, according to CNN, shuffling them into ESPN.com’s coverage for the time being. The Big Lead reports that another ESPN website, the Undefeated, is adding new staffers as Grantland closes shop. The site, which has gone through consistent upheaval in its short existence, will be bolstered by an additional 20 staffers.
Friday’s news comes on the heels of last week’s layoffs; parent company Disney asked ESPN to trim $100 million-worth of fat. Close to 300 people were let go in a series of deep cuts to production and content-producing staff. The company’s questionable business acumen led it to wildly overpay for broadcast rights to NFL and NBA games. Tied to a reduction in cable-package deals, the company is watching as its (formerly massive) profit margins shrivel.
Skipper rationalized the layoffs as a “necessary part of our continued strategic evolution to ensure ESPN remains the leader in sports as well as the premier sports destination on any platform.”