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Bill Simmons’ New Project: An ESPN Site With No ESPN Branding

When news came out a couple days ago that Deadspin contributor Katie Baker was joining Bill Simmons’ new project full-time, it also came with news that more details about the project were soon to leak. As it turned out, “soon” was “two days” – today, both Simmons and ESPN gave their first comments on what the new project would actually be. If you’re familiar with Simmons, the details likely won’t be surprising, but there’s reason for intrigue all the same.

SportsBusiness Daily spoke to Simmons about the project – it’s going to be a website owned by ESPN, but “will not carry the ESPN brand.” The breakdown of the site’s content will be roughly 70% sports, 30% pop culture, which fits in neatly with the style Simmons himself established over the years. The name and exact launch date are yet to be determined, but according to the SBD piece, you can expect to see the site up “later this spring.”

Simmons also said that in addition to Baker, Chuck Klosterman (of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs fame, among other books) is on board for the project. Simmons and Klosterman have been friendly for some time now, so his addition isn’t a shock, but since Klosterman has significant name recognition himself, he’ll help bring added attention (and, one would expect, plenty of solid content) to the site. And Simmons recently broke news of another contributor via Twitter: New York’s Lane Brown, who’ll serve as pop culture editor.

The three announced names (plus, of course, Simmons – an ESPN release said, “the site will host Bill’s columns and podcasts”) form an interesting mix of well-established and up-and-coming writers. This, apparently, was a conscious effort on Simmons’ part, since the same ESPN release said he’s “building a team of lesser-known, talented young writers and editors” while also providing a space for “leading journalists” to offer occasional commentary.

The only thing we’re not sure about is this nugget from the ESPN release:

Bill sees the site functioning with limited fan interaction, including a selection of about 300 fans with exclusive access to comment on the site and interact with contributors.

“Limited fan interaction” sounds a bit alienating, especially when Simmons built up such a rabid fanbase by establishing a reputation as a man of the people. (Just your everyday “sports guy,” if you will. Call me crazy – I think that nickname could catch on for him.)

And while there’s no doubt Simmons’ notoriety ensures that everything on the site would get overrun with comments – not all of them civil – if they opened up commenting to everyone, Simmons must have enough fans who are also devoted to him enough that they’d be willing to collectively police the comments section and keep things under control. Cutting off access to all but a select group, on the other hand – even if the “select group” is of significant size – doesn’t feel quite right.

Even accounting for our worries about that aspect, though, it’s hard to imagine this site won’t be a success. We documented the lavish praise of Baker’s hiring, so it appears Simmons has some ability to spot talent. And he’s on a hot streak, considering the continued popularity of his column combined with the success of his sports documentary brainchild, 30 for 30. Based on the people Simmons is bringing on board for his latest project, we see no reason the hot streak won’t continue with this new site – whatever the name may be.

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  • Fred Wreck

    Man of the people? Simmons and Rick Reilly are the only ESPN writers who don’t allow comments on their articles. The only difference here is that Simmons gets to cherry pick his favorite ass-kissers to validate his lame opinions.

  • Fred Wreck

    Man of the people? Simmons and Rick Reilly are the only ESPN writers who don’t allow comments on their articles. The only difference here is that Simmons gets to cherry pick his favorite ass-kissers to validate his lame opinions.

  • guest

    Soooo it is basically deadspin pre-awful redesign? I like it.

  • Guesty

    You mean to tell me Simmons, NOT AJ, ruined Deadspin?

  • http://twitter.com/AdumbStillman Adam Stillman

    And thus the reason why they do not allow comments. This system works great for Gawker blogs, why not for his?

  • Anonymous

    I wonder what other writers will join the mix that have lost their fastballs. Simmons is a baby when it comes to anything of his being criticized so I doubt the comment area will be anything like the glory days of the Deadspin commentators.

    I have a feeling this might not work too well, but with Simmons, just about everything he has touched has turned into gold. All streaks must come to an end.

  • Bill

    As long as it keeps his whiny, grating voice off my television.

  • Non

    Or, you know, ESPN could have made the effort to invest in and clean up Page 2. Free tip to ESPN, when you need to start something that doesn’t have your brand on it, you have a problem with the perception of your brand and need to figure out how to clean that up.

  • Kw369

    I believe that blurb aboutt he 300 followers most likely will end up being Readers who he uses for mailbags or refers to in podcasts and articles that he keeps in contact with due to their wit and continued funny contributions to his tweets/articles/podcasts. Nobody needs a plethora of annoying message boards going back and forth with immaturity. Im sure the site will be fan friendly enough. Dont hate on a guy for doin HIS OWN DAMN THING!

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