Update at the bottom

Ever since ESPN gave Bill Simmons the boot, The Sports Guy has been firing salvos against his former employer, criticizing them for their DeflateGate reporting and bowing down to Roger Goodell.  It’s been notable amongst a rising tide of criticism coming from those individuals that were formerly some of ESPN’s biggest personalities.  But podcast barbs and snarky tweets should be the least of ESPN’s concerns when it comes to facing The Revenge of Bill Simmons.

One of the biggest storylines in the post-Simmons era revolves around his vanity project at ESPN – Grantland.  Specifically, 1) What happens to Grantland now that Simmons is gone and 2) What happens if Bill Simmons builds a competitor to Grantland?

We’re about ready to find out the answers to both those questions.  Bristol oracle Jim Miller reports the bombshell that four Grantlanders are leaving ESPN, ready to follow Simmons to a new promised land:

There are a couple major implications here:

1) ESPN has maintained their support for Grantland.  Chris Connolly was put in charge on an interim basis and the site has continued to move forward, albeit with seemingly more questions than answers at this point.  ESPN President John Skipper has been ardent in his public conviction about Bristol’s backing of Grantland:

 “We are committed to Grantland. We are going to continue to do it and we are going to continue to do it at the same level both financially and staff-wise. Bill did a great job building that site, and I think he and I will be on the same page in suggesting we want to build on that legacy.”

Underneath the surface though, there are still significant questions.  Who’s going to be the long-term leader?  What about the site’s profitability?  Are writers more loyal to ESPN or to Bill Simmons?  The fact that the highly talented Wesley Morris has already left for the New York Times with four more heading out the door is an alarming indication for Grantland’s future.

2) We’ve known for a while now that Simmons has his television deal locked down with HBO.  He’s re-launched an independent version of The Bill Simmons Podcast.  But the writing future of The Sports Guy is a bit more cloudy.  Simmons just got done telling Vanity Fair the following:

“I still have to figure out where I’m going to write and how much I’m going to write,” he said. “The last couple years, I was trying to do too many things. I was able to do them, but when I finally left, it took a couple of months to recover from them. You step away, and you’re just like, Wow, this is great. I’m just going to to go the movies. Not working is really fun.”

These writers wouldn’t be leaving Grantland for Bill Simmons’ personal Blogspot site.  (Do people still use those?)  Something has to be lined up.  Simmons may not be ready to announce it publicly, but if he’s already recruiting writers then you can bet that it’s going to be a robust venture that will probably look very similar to Grantland’s characteristic mix of sports and pop culture.  To use an outdated wrestling analogy, Bill Simmons is forming his own version of the nwo Wolfpac.

The remaining unknown is whether or not this new venture comes under the HBO umbrella with his television work, is linked up with another major media company, or a brand new independent venture.  But make no mistake, with this huge development, the Simmons Media Empire is coming.  And it’s coming for ESPN.

Update:

SI’s Richard Deitsch reports the four writers are Sean Fennessey, Juliet Litman, Mallory Rubin and Chris Ryan. Deitsch also provided another update on Grantland’s staffing situation.

Dan Fierman, the founding editorial director of Grantland and one of its key behind the scenes executives, has left ESPN for a job as the Vice President and Editorial Director of MTV News. Fierman had worked for Grantland since the site was founded in 2011 and was a close confidant of Bill Simmons.

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

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