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Former ESPN Star Bill Simmons Lands at HBO

A "multi-platform" deal for the sports media star, starting with a new TV show in 2016.

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 didn’t want to work with Bill Simmons anymore. HBO is happy to have him.

The pay TV network has officially signed the multimedia sports star to a “major exclusive multi-year, multi-platform agreement,” confirming reports that first leaked out (likely courtesy of HBO) in June. Simmons will have an HBO talk show that will start airing in 2016, and HBO says it will also work with him on other ventures, like video podcasts and documentaries.

There’s no mention in HBO’s press release of Simmons creating a new version of Grantland, the site he built for ESPN — or any other Web property for HBO. That doesn’t mean Simmons doesn’t want to create something on the Web, though my understanding is he hasn’t decided one way or another. And I suppose it’s possible that HBO could participate in that if he wants to build one, though it looks as though he’ll need other partners if he goes that route.

I’m a little surprised that this is an HBO-only announcement and not a Time Warner deal that also encompasses the conglomerate’s Turner networks. Simmons’s chief passion was basketball, and while he was at ESPN the network let him participate in some of its NBA broadcasts; I assumed that he’d want to replicate some version of that with Turner, which is the only other programmer with NBA games.

Reminder: This deal exists because ESPN essentially fired Simmons in May by announcing that it wasn’t going to renew his contract this year. Simmons was a valuable asset for the sports giant, but also a voluble one, who often complained that he didn’t get the treatment and resources he wanted. He will be dead set on proving to ESPN that they screwed up.

Here’s the text of the release:


LOS ANGELES, July 22, 2015 — Bill Simmons, one of the most influential figures in contemporary sports media and the founding editor of, and HBO have entered into a major exclusive multi-year, multi-platform agreement highlighted by a new weekly series coming next year, it was announced today by Michael Lombardo, president, HBO Programming.

“We have been fans of Bill Simmons and his work for a very long time” said Lombardo. “His intelligence, talent, and insights are without precedent in the areas he covers. We could not be more thrilled for him to bring those talents to HBO and to become a signature voice at the network, spanning the sports and pop culture landscapes.”

“It’s no secret that HBO is the single best place for creative people in the entire media landscape,” Simmons said. “From the moment I started talking to Michael and Richard (Plepler), it was hard to imagine being anywhere else.”

HBO will be Simmons’ exclusive television home. The overall agreement, which begins in October, provides for a comprehensive partnership on a variety of platforms between the network and Simmons. Among the elements of the new deal will be a talk show set to premiere in 2016 that will air on the main HBO service as well as the HBO digital platforms HBO GO® and HBO NOW®. Topical and spontaneous, the show will feature stories and guests from across the sports and cultural landscape. Simmons will also have a production deal to produce content and assets for the network and its digital platforms, delivering video podcasts and features. In addition, Simmons will be consulting with HBO Sports, working closely with HBO Sports president Ken Hershman on non-boxing related programming, including the development of shows and documentary films for the network.

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