A logo for The Draft Network. A logo for The Draft Network. (TheDraftNetwork.com.)

The list of sports media properties that have imploded around claims of unpaid bills and wages is long. But a new in-depth feature from long-time NFL writer Arif Hasan in his Wide Left Substack newsletter on what happened with The Draft Network is fascinating for the details it provides.

In particular, this piece digs into how control shifted from the founders to Paige Dimakos and the many bizarre examples of what happened next.

Hasan’s piece here is worth a read in full (it’s behind a $7 a month or $64 a year paywall, but there are free trial options). What stands out as particularly notable is how Paige Dimakos (who did not respond to six different requests for comment from Hasan; his piece is instead based on interviews with dozens of former staffers, plus court documents and more) wound up in charge of this company and what happened during her tenure.

That included missed payments to vendors and staffers, bizarre snafus (including booking a house used for porn video shoots as their 2022 NFL Draft hub and frantically having to cover up problematic material there), and eventually forcing out other founders and staffers (sometimes with alleged falsification of exit comments from them), alleged doctored emails, and implosion of the website. (The site vowed to return “stronger than ever” in January, and does remain online as of Wednesday, but for how long is a valid question given the reporting here on all of what it owes.)

Here are some of the wildest quotes on Dimakos from Hasan’s piece:

“Have you ever seen the Hulu series The Dropout? Elizabeth Holmes. Theranos. She’s running a fugazi company. That is what I compare Paige Dimakos to… I think she’s genuinely a crook.”

…“Every time there was an issue, her strategy was to divide the team and create a wedge and isolate who she thinks is the problem,” said one. “She siloes individual people and gaslights them to the rest of the team if you don’t fall in line.”

…“Her whole deal is that she ghosts people. Instead of confronting issues head-on. And it’s everyone else’s fault. It’s JC Cornell’s fault, it’s Dawn and the new investor’s fault. It’s never her fault.”

…“I just don’t think that she knew how to handle adversity. I think that was a problem. When it twisted, she didn’t know who to ask for help, how to get help. I don’t think she was honest about what was going on…”

That’s only some of the many comments about Dimakos. It’s also fascinating that she wound up in this role at all. As Hasan notes, The Draft Network was founded in 2018 by JC Cornell, Trevor Sikkema, Jon Ledyard, Kyle Crabbs, and Joe Marino, with Cornell (son of Target CEO Brian Cornell) handling the business side and the others handling the editorial side.

TDN gained a quick following by acquiring and renaming the dormant TheDraftBreakdown Twitter account in exchange for a donation to The Wounded Warrior Project. They retained and grew that following with in-depth draft scouting breakdowns, live streams from big events, popular podcasts hosted by some of those figures, and more. Perhaps most crucially, they had a mock draft machine that was not the first on the market, but had several advantages over existing competitors, and attracted a major audience. That all led to a lot of success.

But several of those figures would soon exit. Ledyard wound up with a chief operating officer (COO) role, first unofficially and then officially, but went on leave and then resigned in 2019 around controversy around a resurfacing of old tweets of his, including a homophobic slur, a defense of Riley Cooper’s racist slur, and racist stereotypes. (There’s a notable thing in there about how the company’s Twitter account promoted those with no clear indication of who did it, leading to theories about past access through TweetDeck or a similar account, something we’ve heard lately on another NFL front.)

That led to a more prominent role for Dimakos. She was brought in on the recommendation of Crabbs and Marino, who had worked with her at FanRag Sports (another online sports outlet that imploded spectacularly). She initially served as a freelance on-air host for a Senior Bowl stream, then grew that relationship into something that had her as a more regular host with unofficial COO responsibilities, citing family contacts for sponsorships and experience with livestreaming challenges.

Then in 2019, Cornell took a leave of absence as CEO intending to return. Dimakos took on his responsibilities unofficially at first but didn’t concede them when he returned, leading to a situation where they sold equity, he got some cash-out, and Dimakos wound up as official CEO in 2021. At the same time, the company went through a draft livestream hit by technical issues, and then faced a lawsuit from web provider ArcTouch alleging they owed almost $400,000.

Things got worse still from there, including missed payments (sometimes at times when Dimakos was posting to social media about her extravagant trips), live event snafus including that 2022 porn house, alleged forcing out of the other founders, and then the eventual implosion of the website with many still owed money. And Hasan’s piece, which goes into a lot of detail on all of those aspects, has received a lot of social media discussion, including from former Draft Network employees.

It also drew deserving and strong endorsements from a ton of NFL media figures and others.

As noted at the top, this is far from the only prominent implosion of a sports media company or a sports enterprise. But there’s a lot that’s remarkable here, especially in how much of this seems to have happened around one non-initial figure joining the company and working her way into more and more senior roles.

Another remarkable aspect is that this kind of in-depth, heavy-reporting journalism (Hasan notes it took him three months) comes from a writer at his independent subscription site. It’s not the first time we’ve seen that this year even just in the NFL, though, with Tyler Dunne making major national news with his 20,000-word Go Long feature on Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott, including past 9/11 comments.

That’s an interesting trend to see. We’ll see if it continues down the road as the industry continues evolving.

[Wide Left; logo from a January The Draft Network press release]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.