ESPN's Grantland is in big trouble

Bill simmonsMike Windle/GettyBill Simmons has recruited several Grantland employees to join his new venture at HBO.

ESPN’s Grantland has been in a state of flux since Bill Simmons’ exit from the site earlier in the year.

Now, it appears the entire site is on the verge of decline, according to a report from James Andrew Miller on Vanity Fair.

After Simmons and ESPN parted ways, Grantland, Simmons ESPN spinoff site, has seen its infrastructure begin to crumble. Many of its top staff have left in recent months, including critic Wesley Morris, Mallory Rubin, Juliet Litman, and Chris Ryan. Rembert Browne announced on Monday he would be leaving the site a full year before his contract is up.

While Morris and Browne have left for other ventures — New York Times and New York Magazine, respectively — Simmons has recruited others to join to whatever his new venture will be with HBO. According to Miller, deputy editor Sean Fennessey is joining Simmons after turning down an opportunity to become Grantland’s editor-in-chief, joining other Grantland converts like Ryan, Rubin, and Litman.

One source told Business Insider that Simmons actually tried to hire more people from Grantland but was unable to. It is unclear if ESPN was blocking their exits or if the staffers just chose not to join Simmons.

There are other signs that Grantland is in trouble, with Miller saying there is “fear” over the site’s future, as more departures are expected, and traffic and ad revenue are both diminutive.

In fact, Miller reports that Simmons’ new podcast is fairing pretty well in comparison to Grantland.

ESPN sources place annual ad revenue for Grantland at about $US6 million a year, including the Web site and a Simmons podcast, but since his departure from ESPN, Simmons has rolled out his own… podcast, which, according to an industry expert, is probably worth north of $US5 million in yearly revenue alone. Thus Simmons is now making for himself roughly the same as Grantland’s entire annual ad-sales revenue.

As Miller notes, Simmons often felt that ESPN didn’t do enough to push Grantland’s content, and he had several ideas for the site that never took off, including getting more visibility on ESPN’s main page and mobile app, finding a Grantland platform for Fox Sports’ Katie Nolan, and getting more ad revenue for his old podcast, “The B.S. Report.”

The hope for Grantland’s survival, according to Miller? Bitterness.

ESPN has continued to say that Grantland’s traffic and ad revenue is fine, pushing the idea that Simmons’ departure didn’t mean much to the site. Miller says that ESPN may keep Grantland alive, just to continue promoting that idea.

However, in light of ESPN’s layoffs and financial trouble, it seems that keeping a slowly fading website alive out of bitterness would be a waste of resources. While there’s no official end of the line for Grantland, it certainly seems things are trending in the wrong direction.

We reached out to ESPN and are awaiting comment.

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