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Grantland Publisher David Cho Is Leaving, Too

He gave his notice last week. Today ESPN announced it was splitting up with Grantland founder Bill Simmons.

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.

Bill Simmons isn’t the only one leaving Grantland and ESPN.

David Cho, who has been publisher of the sports + pop culture site since Simmons started it in 2011, gave his notice to ESPN last week, according to a person familiar with the site. ESPN announced this morning that it was not renewing Simmons’ contract, which was set to expire this fall.

In March, I spoke to Simmons about his future at ESPN, and the future of Grantland. Here’s the part that has resonance today:

We just talked about all the things you’re doing. Do you think you could go off by yourself, or some place other than ESPN, and recreate all of this?

I don’t like the word “recreate.” That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Grantland has been the most important thing I’ve done now for five years. Everything I’ve done for the last five years has been geared toward the site. I think it’s a business. The frustrating thing is you have to keep growing to have a business. You can’t just say “Okay — we’re good, after three years — we don’t need more people.”

I just think Grantland’s at a crucial point now where we’re doing the site that we have now really, really well. And that’s been the case now for about 14 months. So now the question is, what does that mean to ESPN? I don’t know. I don’t know that it’s a me decision — it’s what does ESPN want from this site? Because if they just want it to say the same, it’s going to stagnate a little bit.

It sounds like you’re asking ESPN to give you more resources.

I’m not doing anything. I haven’t asked for anything.

But when you do — it sounds like what you’re going ask them to do is to invest more in your property, and you.

I wouldn’t say that. That’s a decision that has to come from them. They just have to think about what the goals of the company are. The reality is they make billions of dollars with TV rights. It’s always good to dabble in different things. But sometimes when you dabble in different things, they turn into something. I think you have a responsibility at that point to decide “Alright — something happened here. This is a really good thing. Now what do we do?” That’s not my decision.

But you’ve made some suggestions, presumably, to [ESPN head] John Skipper and those folks.

No, I haven’t, actually. I haven’t had a lot of contact with those people since last September.

That was the Goodell thing. Does that experience influence your decision?

I don’t know. What I care about is the people I work with. Those are the people who know how much time we’ve put into everything. And we’ve never had … we’ve always been understaffed, always. We’ve had to pick certain people who are just overachieving, people that care about the product that we have. And, you know — at some point you want to have the right number of people, you want to start adding verticals and certain things. And if you’re not prepared to do that, I don’t know what’s left.

So that conversation has to happen first. And then you have to have a conversation afterward about me, and what I want to do. I still feel like I have five years left, where I can work at this pace. In five years I’m going to be 50, and I don’t know how hard I’m going to be able to work. I know how hard I work now. I don’t know if it’s going to be sustainable.

I think they take it for granted. Not just how hard I work, but how hard everybody works.”

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