Will Bill Simmons Walk Away From ESPN? If He Likes Money, Probably Not
While Bill Simmons serves his three-week suspension from ESPN, rumors are swirling that the Worldwide Leader's "shadow president" may not re-sign with the company when his contract is up next year.
This isn't a mind-blowing concept: Simmons' most recent offense to the network -- calling out Roger Goodell and then daring ESPN to do something about it, which they did -- is just one in a long line of issues he's had since coming aboard as "The Boston Sports Guy" and writing for Page 2. He has arguably the most freedom of any sportswriter alive (yes, even considering he's been made to go golfing when he should be working on NBA previews) and that freedom has helped him become one of the best-known, with a large-enough fan base to conceivably go his own way rather than re-signing with ESPN in 2015.
Business Insider reportedly spoke to a few media executives about Simmons and came away with some juicy insight, including:
-Simmons makes "something like" $3 million a year.
-Companies like CBS and FOX are weighing bids on his services.
-He's considering "going it alone" but with help with promotion, investment, sales, etc. This could involve a partner like Medium or Yahoo.
There's only one problem with the "going it alone" concept, even if he gets help from a third-party: It's hard to make money in digital media. We know all it. I've talked about it at length, and even mentioned Grantland as an example of a site that has a good reputation, though not stellar unique numbers. Grantland and FiveThirtyEight are fantastic websites, but it's not clear that ESPN would want to re-sign Simmons based just on their numbers alone. If they did, it wouldn't be for much more than he's already making.
Simmons would also be losing much of his access to the NBA if he left, and according to him, he wants to work for "whoever has the NBA." Assuming that ABC/ESPN is able to re-up with the NBA after its contract runs out in 2016, Simmons would be walking away from his best chance to cover the league up close. Big names that were formerly of ESPN still cover the NBA and break news -- Chris Sheridan comes to mind -- but so far no one is bigger or better than ESPN at what ESPN does.
Building your own brand is appealing, but even with this latest disagreement, it's hard to imagine Simmons having the same kind of exposure, success, and most importantly, money, if he leaves for another publication. Maybe if an openly depressed Simmons returns to Grantland and acts all mopey for like, six months, we'll change our tune. But if Simmons still wants to be the guy that "shields his writers" from traffic data and doesn't put pressure on them to pull in readers, he'll stick with the company allows him to do that propping up his pet projects... provided he doesn't bite their hand when they drop his paycheck in the mailbox.
That being said, a "Decision" article written by Simmons that suddenly appears on AOL.com ("I'M COMING HOME") would be pretty awesome.
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