You would be hard-pressed to find a sports fan in 2020 who doesn’t know anything about Bill Simmons. In an online sports landscape that runs on the backs of blogs, Simmons was a pioneer not only in the world of blogging but podcasting and television too. Part of his story, however, is his ugly breakup with ESPN that led him to start the successful sports and entertainment site The Ringer.
Simmons opened up about that divorce in a profile with Vanity Fair.
The rise of Bill Simmons
Simmons got his start as The Sports Guy, a writer who mixed conversational language, personal insights, and comedic language to discuss the current state of everything sports, specifically with regards to his beloved Boston teams. Simmons has always had a particular fondness for the Celtics, as he often muses about going to see the team with his father as a child.
This passion helped him gain a voice that resonated with fans across the country not just the New England era. Simmons also has a knack for firing from the hip, and this penchant for the dramatic got him into hot water more than a few times.
At no point was this bigger than when he claimed that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell lacked the “testicular fortitude” to do what Simmons perceived to be the correct thing in response to the infamous Deflategate. The fallout from these comments severed the partnership and changed the network’s landscape forever.
Bill Simmons vs. ESPN
Simmons, who had built the successful sports and culture website Grantland in partnership with ESPN, was one of the biggest names on the network when things went sour. His thumbprint on ESPN’s brand was undeniable.
Not only did he help build Grantland, which served as the jump-off point for several successful writers, but he also helped launch the popular 30 for 30 documentary series and pioneered the ESPN podcast network.
“I got to do some awesome things at ESPN,” he told Vanity Fair. “I don’t have any bitterness for how it played out… I don’t think they got enough credit in the past, sometimes, for some of the innovations they had.”
As far as his departure, however, Simmons saw it as an overreaction by a network that was too scared to hurt the NFL’s feelings and not worried enough about the precedent that punishing Simmons would set. Simmons claims that he found out about former head of ESPN John Skipper’s decision to fire him via Twitter.
“It was f—ing shitty,” Simmons said (per The Hollywood Reporter). “By the way they handled it, you would think I played grab-ass with some makeup assistant or something.”
From there, Simmons sparred with his employer, causing the dominos to fall until Simmons was out at ESPN, Grantland folded, and he was a free agent. Simmons remained silent on the issues for quite some time until eventually launching The Ringer, a blog and content producer that would cover sports, music, movies, and other cultural events.
What does the future hold?
The Ringer was a success and Simmons is doing just fine without ESPN. The Ringer has become a giant in the world of online publications and was recently acquired by music-streaming giant Spotify for $200M. The streaming giant is hoping to solidify itself as more than a music service, but a viable competitor with ESPN and other sports and entertainment providers.
Whether people love Simmons or hate him, they cannot deny the impact that he has had not only on ESPN but on the current sports landscape in general. With this most recent acquisition, Simmons has become more than a writer, podcaster, and television personality. Now, he can be viewed as a certified media mogul.