All good things must end: An ode Grantland
On October 30th 2015 ESPN announced that it was shutting down its pop culture and sports site, Grantland.com.
Grantland was conceived as a vehicle to keep star writer and personality Bill Simmons at ESPN. Its five year run was destined to come to an end when Simmons left ESPN and the site about 6 months ago.
This isn’t a big deal to many people but it’s important to me. You see, for five years Grantland was my favorite thing on the internet. They employed who I consider to be the best baseball writer on the planet (Jonah Keri), the best basketball writer (Zach Lowe), the world’s best writer for stories about a guy getting his dick stuck in a compound bow (Holly Anderson) and maybe the best sports writer alive (Brian Philips). They also employed two of the best pop culture critics in Alex Papademas and Wesley Morris and featured my favorite writer of all time, Chuck Klosterman.
Needless to say, almost every day in the last 5 years of my life have been at least partially occupied by either an article or podcast from An ode Grantland. I probably linked to one of their articles on Facebook or Twitter 50 times over that and I could have sent one every day. My friend, Chris, even told once me that I read Grantland too much when I was dismissive of an article he tweeted out. I laughed but it was true, nothing has influenced my writing however sporadic it is more than Grantland has the last few years. The site was smart, funny and interesting but mostly, it was different. Grantland felt like somebody made a website just for me and every day produced loads of new content. It was without a doubt my dream job, a bold seemingly out of reach dream but something that gave me hope. There was a place in this world that makes sense and maybe one day I will be fortunate enough to get there.
From the beginning, Grantland bore an eerie resemblance to The National, a short lived nation-wide sports newspaper that Bill Simmons spoke about repeatedly. In fact, they even published an oral history on the now defunct publication that hemorrhaged money despite prestigious writing talent. In reality that is probably what doomed them and I don’t know if anyone can say they are really surprised. The site’s staff was over 40 people, it included two different offices and a studio to record podcasts and shoot videos. The budget always seemed out of whack for a vanity project and make no mistake about it, that’s what this was. Nobody has ever been able to prove that it generated income for ESPN. Most reports differ in what the actual site traffic was but, needless to say, none of the numbers would knock your socks off. ESPN kept it for as long as they did in part to satisfy Simmons and in part because I think there was enough support for the quality of work from the higher ups to justify the expenditure. Then this year, Disneythe parent company of ESPN which owned Grantland announced that ESPN had to trim $100 million from their budget.
Anyone that has ever worked in a corporate environment for long enough is familiar with what happened next. You see, most large companies are made up of regular people that spend every day doing their jobs to the best of their ability. Hopefully they believe in what they are doing and their goals are motivated by a desire to help their customers the best they can and/or to put out the best product that they can. Miles away in corporate offices are the decisions makers of your large companies, the CEO, CFO, board of directors, etc. These people have no direct link to the day to day happenings in any of the local offices, they merely view data in the form of graphs and spreadsheets and charts and make decisions that affect so many people’s lives based on nothing more than numbers.
ESPN makes a roughly a shit ton of money for the Disney corporation. When they laid off 300 people this month it wasn’t because the company was losing money and had to right the ship, it was because the company wasn’t make ENOUGH money. Profit margins had gone down and so too stock prices and with those things, bonuses. The people at large corporations that make decisions get bonuses higher than your average salary and if the only way to keep those checks rolling in is to let go of a few hundred people, or close an office or a department then they will do this. They will leave the dirty work of relaying the news to your middle managers and they will issue a press release that will note how difficult of a decision this was.
In the aftermath of the news on Friday one sentiment struck me as the most common among all of the former staff; “we were lucky to get to do this for as long as we did.” You see, somebody had to pay for everything at Grantland. Some company had to sign checks for over 40 staff members and reimburse those expense reports for long trips on location and pay the rent for multiple offices. Large expenditures like this are rarely done out of kindness, they are usually done in the hopes that this thing that is funded will eventually generate enough income to be considered worthwhile. Grantland was never going to be that, there simply aren’t enough people with that specific set of sensibilities to ever generate enough revenue. It was truly amazing that we got five years out of it.
So this is where we are, Grantland was a dream, for me and people like me, and based on the outpouring of love and support that followed its closing, there were more of then I could ever imagine. Now that dream is over, the bitter fallout from a harsh corporate battle. After he was let go from ESPN, Bill Simmons changed his twitter bio to the following quote from Worldwide Wes which I think perfectly encapsulates where we go from here; “You can’t chase the night. When the night is over, the night is over. That’s just the way it is. “