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

  • Glenn Davis

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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