The biggest and most intriguing mystery in sports media right now is the future of Bill Simmons at ESPN and whether he will eventually branch out on his own or join another sports media company.
Despite a contract that pays him more than $US5 million a year at ESPN, the scuttlebutt is that Simmons was “furious” at the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports after his latest suspension, this one for challenging his bosses to punish him after calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a liar.
In an interview with Ryan Glasspiegel of TheBigLead.com, ESPN’s outgoing ombudsman Robert Lipsyte was asked about the future of ESPN franchises initiated by Simmons (e.g. “30 for 30” documentaries, Grantland.com) should Simmons indeed leave the network.
Interestingly, Lipsyte took the opportunity to take a shot at Simmons’ contributions, suggesting they are overstated, and that the network would survive just fine without Simmons, AKA “The Sports Guy.”
Yes, Lipsyte has a point about how the content can continue without Simmons and yes, ESPN is big enough that they will be fine. But his point is also overlysimplistic and misses out on how Simmons is one of only a handful of sports media personalities that can move the needle at any given time.
Coincidentally, the idea of replacing Simmons at ESPN is much like a conversation Simmons recently had on his podcast with Grantland writer Andy Greenwald about rebooting television franchises and how it works in some cases and completely fails in others.
One example of a predictable failure was the recent reboot of “The Rockford Files,” a 70s private investigator show. Greenwald’s point was that even though the original was very popular, what the producers missed was that the show was built around the highly likable James Garner as Jim Rockford and the reboot was destined to fail with Dermot Mulroney in the lead.
That is what Simmons is to ESPN. He is a personality that people gravitate to, for good or bad. The projects would go on, but they would not be nearly as popular without Simmons in the lead role.
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