Vox Media’s mismanagement of their sports content over the past year deserves a lot of attention, from their initial April furloughs of talented and prominent employees through their June and July cuts of many of the initially-furloughed employees. And that makes it particularly funny to see their latest spin release Thursday on the promotion of Jermaine Spradley. Spradley had previously been the vice president responsible for SB Nation, and before that, he had been the general manager of SB Nation, and he was in control through this summer’s incredibly disastrous cuts. So this is particularly interesting, especially considering how it came 16 months after a Vox release about how their brands would all be represented by a SVP, except for SBN:
Going forward, four groups will represent our seven networks, each led by a new Senior Vice President. Those will be: (1) The Verge and Polygon, led by Chris Grant; (2) Eater and Curbed, led by Amanda Kludt; (3) SB Nation, which includes our 300+ sports communities, MMA Fighting, and SBNation.com and (4) Vox and Recode, led by Lauren Williams. The Verge, Polygon, Eater, and Curbed will continue to operate independently under their respective Editors-in-Chief.
This is further evidence of how Vox Media’s leadership, including publisher Melissa Bell, has horribly misunderstood what they have in their sports brand. This company was built on the back of sports brand SB Nation, but after that brand allowed them to launch other verticals across technology, fashion, food and other areas, they have horribly neglected it. SB Nation had many of the best sportswriters out there, but opted to let them go in favor of pursuing some nebulous other strategy.
That’s led to ex-SB Nation personalities like Spencer Hall and Richard Johnson appearing on prominent TV networks with their independent “Moon Crew” platform rather than SBN. And boy, if there’s even an indictment of an online outlet strategy, it’s that; literal TV networks recognized the value in your employees that you ignored. And it’s also remarkable that this promotion of Spradley comes 16 months after the supposed division of brands into areas led by senior vice presidents. It says a whole lot about Vox and Bell that they didn’t think the SBN division needed representation at the SVP level until now.
And that’s rather fitting, considering Bell’s incredible ineptitude in understanding the sports world. This woman has somehow been given authority over one of the world’s most prominent sports media brands, and yet, she criticized the Shutdown Fullcast for comments on Alabama head coach Nick Saban, one of the most notable figures in the sports world. Per an AA source, “Melissa was in a meeting with Banner Society brass and was criticizing the Shutdown Fullcast, calling it too insular and not appealing to a broad enough audience. She pointed at a picture of Nick Saban as an example and said she had no idea who that was.”
From this corner, it feels like the person who doesn’t know who Nick Saban is should be the one tossed to the curb, rather than the incredible college football talent SB Nation had and then laid off. But this company has consistently continued to minimize the importance of sports over the past few years, even though sports is the only thing that led to them having a media company in the first place. And it says something that 16 months after an announcement of SVPs to oversee their various brands, they finally got around to giving SB Nation representation on that level, and that they made that representation the person who presided over SB Nation’s destruction as a viable sports outlet.
It’s great that Vox Media has been able to take that once-good sports site and build a lot of crappy imitations of it in other genres, then destroy it, and then try and claim that they still somehow care about sports. That’s totally fine. And it’s very notable to see Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff, who previously made a lot of public hay out of creating the great sports site of AOL FanHouse and then exiting before its destruction, allowing a successor sports site created under his auspices to be destroyed by non-sports people.
At any rate, it’s extremely funny to see Vox now trying to make hay off of this promotion of Spradley. Spradley was already in charge of SB Nation, first as GM and then as VP. So he presided over the unfathomable reducings of that once-proud brand, and didn’t do anything to stand up to the corporate overlords who ruined it. And it’s incredibly notable that Vox took 16 months to appoint a SVP for SB Nation; they built their entire shitty brand of political and technological hot takes off their success in sports, but decided to give sports much less representation in the corporate structure until this point.
So congratulations to Vox on now giving Spradley, who had overseen all these destructions of the once-proud SB Nation brand, a title equivalent to his counterparts in their other horrible divisions. And good luck to him in trying to do something useful with the SB Nation brand. That would have been a much easier task if they hadn’t already laid off all of the writers that anyone would want to read, but hey, it’s not like he can blame anyone else for that decision, given his key role in implementing it.