Sports brat Bill Simmons soon will launch a new Web site, Ringer, which already has hired top staffers from his sorely missed former online operation, Grantland.
ESPN rashly ended Grantland after a well-publicized breakup between the sports media giant and Simmons, who first gained notoriety as a stay-at-home blogger covering Boston sports from a rabid, hometown fan's perspective. That fresh perspective led to prominence on ESPN, including a prime position on NBA broadcasts of ABC, which owns the all-sports operation.
Simmons claimed that ESPN dumped him because of Simmons' criticism of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, which the network denied. The blasts at Goodell likely played a part, but Simmons' brash, off-the-cuff commentary appeared out of step with ESPN's increasingly corporate image. While I admired Grantland, I found Simmons irritating on TV, similar to listening to a sports-crazed brother-in-law, although Simmons gave a bracing alternative to league suckups like Michael Wilbon.
Grantland had more intellectual weight than most Web sites, providing innovative coverage of music, TV, film and politics as well as sports. While the site was inconsistent, writers like film historian Mark Harris produced insightful, literate work of higher quality than that generally found on Salon or Slate.
Simmons, now developing a show for HBO, said Ringer will begin as a newsletter in March, with the web site launch scheduled for later in the spring.
Meanwhile, ESPN still has not launched its long planned black-oriented sports web site. With cable subscriptions down, ESPN has announced significant layoffs in recent months, although it claims its future remains bright.
In other cable media news, Yahoo announced its own layoffs and the end of its online magazine venture. The struggling Internet operation sought to build traffic with magazines covering a variety of subjects, but the niche strategy fizzled. Now, fewer workers will produce "content" for the Yahoo news site. Yahoo's newest plan B doesn't look promising.