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Bill Simmons Is Gone, So Grantland Is, Too

No surprise.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

ESPN pushed Bill Simmons out in May. Now it is shutting down the site it built for him.

The cable sports giant says it is pulling the plug on Grantland, “effective immediately.” ESPN and Simmons launched the site, which covered a mix of sports and pop culture, in 2011. A source says the move will affect 40 employees, though some of those with contracts will move to other parts of ESPN.

James Miller, a longtime ESPN chronicler, reports that the move to shut the site down was a “very recent one.” And a source tells me that Grantland staffers were informed about the announcement “a minute before the release went out.”

But this is also a very logical decision: Despite ESPN’s protests to the contrary, Grantland was always a Bill Simmons production, and once he went, there really wasn’t a reason to keep the site going. It didn’t drive much traffic. And depending on who you talked to at ESPN, and whether they were on the record or off the record, it was either not very profitable or unprofitable.

The fact that Grantland’s fate was very much in doubt was also not news to anyone in or around the company. “I’m hearing that dozens of people whose jobs/futures have been dangled over a pit for the past six months might be unhappy,” Grantland writer Holly Anderson tweeted earlier this month. Other Grantland staffers didn’t wait around to find out what would happen.

Star writer Wesley Morris, for instance, recently left for the New York Times, while Dan Fierman, who had run the site with Simmons, went to run MTV News.

And, earlier this month, Simmons himself rehired four of his former employees to work for him; Simmons now has an HBO deal, is producing his own podcasts and wants to launch a new site on his own. Industry sources say Simmons would like to have that up and running in the next six months.

An ESPN spokesperson says the company continues to support 538, the stat-heavy site it built for Nate Silver, using Grantland as a mold. The company also intends to fully launch The Undefeated, which was supposed to be a Grantlandish site aimed at blacks but has had a troubled history.

While Simmons worked for ESPN, he would frequently complain that the site didn’t get enough support from the network. “We’ve always been understaffed. Always,” he told me in an interview last March.

Earlier this week, ESPN boss John Skipper fired back at that argument. “It is completely inaccurate to say that Bill Simmons and Grantland didn’t get enough support,” he said at an industry conference.

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