ESPN is shutting down popular sports site Grantland effective immediately, the company announced Friday in a statement posted on ESPN's site. The decision, which was described as "a very recent one" by ESPN chronicler James Miller, comes mere months after founder Bill Simmons left the popular sports site, and amid continued staff turnover.
The following statement was posted on ESPN's website explaining the decision:
Effective immediately we are suspending the publication of Grantland. 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. Bill Simmons was passionately committed to the site and proved to be an outstanding editor with a real eye for talent. Thanks to all the other writers, editors and staff who worked very hard to create content with an identifiable sensibility and consistent intelligence and quality. We also extend our thanks to Chris Connelly who stepped in to help us maintain the site these past five months as he returns to his prior role.
Despite this change, the legacy of smart long-form sports story-telling and innovative short form video content will continue, finding a home on many of our other ESPN platforms.
The fate of the site has been in question since ESPN President John Skipper announced in May that Simmons’ contract would not be renewed. At the time, he assured the public that “ESPN remains committed to Grantland and we have a strong team in place.”
In the intervening months, however, many on the Grantland team joined Simmons in his new venture at HBO, including Sean Fennessey, Juliet Litman, Mallory Rubin and Chris Ryan. The site's editorial director, Dan Fierman, left to serve as vice president and editorial director of MTV News, while staff writer Rembert Browne took a job at New York magazine.
A recent story in Vanity Fair described a “climate of fear, a cycle of mistrust, and a belief amongst several that staff are 'treated like children'” since Simmons' departure.
On Twitter, Sports Illustrated reporter Richard Deitsch described ESPN’s handling of Grantland post-Simmons as a “train wreck” -- a characterization that seems to extend to the company's handling of the site's closure. Grantland writer Michael Baumann said he learned of his firing via Twitter.
Simmons himself blasted the network for its treatment of Grantland employees.
ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys announced on Twitter that the site’s 40 or so staff members would be able to write for other ESPN platforms for the duration of their contracts.
Former Grantland staffers expressed dismay at the news on Twitter:
On his newly relaunched podcast earlier this month, Simmons spoke openly about his troubles with ESPN, which included a suspension for calling NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a "liar." Simmons accused ESPN of failing to support Grantland while he was still at its helm. “People seem to think ESPN was so helpful for us; it was actually the opposite,” he said. Simmons pointed to the poor billing of Grantland content on ESPN’s site as evidence of the network’s neglect. “You can say they supported with salaries and bandwidth and all of that stuff and that’s fine but there is more that goes into it,” he said.
In an interview with Sports Business Daily, ESPN president Skipper dismissed the criticism as “completely inaccurate.""
The shuttering of Grantland comes amid major layoffs at ESPN, which announced it would let go of 4 percent of its staff, or about 300 employees, amid an earning shortfall and pressure from parent company Disney.