Another day, another Bill Simmons podcast featuring very harsh words for his former employer.
While interviewing Wesley Morris, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who left Grantland this month for a Critic At Large position at the New York Times, Simmons, now at HBO, claimed that Grantland was understaffed and not supported by ESPN management.
“Websites are like plants,” Simmons said. “You have to water them. Unfortunately, ESPN is good at building stuff and creating stuff, launching stuff and building stuff. But there comes a point where you have to decide what does this mean, how can we get from Point A to Point B to Point C to Point D to Point E. My biggest issue behind the scenes the last two years was like 'Help me, help us.' We were not even on their mobile page until I think January. We just had this tiny little hyperlink at the bottom of the ESPN Mobile site. You can say they supported with salaries and bandwidth and all of that stuff and that’s fine but there is more that goes into it.
“You see when they launched Scott Van Pelt’s [SportsCenter] show—a ton of ads, a ton of resources, they blow it out and try to make it succeed. I think all of us [at Grantland] felt like these guys were not trying to make us succeed, which is a weird feeling when everyone is busting their ass.”
In September 2014, ESPN management suspended Simmons for three weeks after he called Goodell a "liar" (among other things) on his podcast, The B.S. Report, following Goodell’s press conference on the league's ongoing domestic violence issues. Simmons said he took his ESPN suspension “personally” and he was also upset at a critical ombudsman column by then ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipstye. He said he believed ESPN management was trying to make him look bad.
“I just think it is weird to work at a place that is trying to make you look bad,” Simmons said on the podcast released Friday morning. “Usually places try not to make some of their best talent look bad. It’s usually not something a company does. So there was bad blood. So when they took money from me in December, that was the point of no return.”
Simmons said he believes ESPN management figured out this February that he was not coming back to the company and “that’s when they started doing stuff.” He cited the company moving his Grantland Basketball Hour featuring Kobe Bryant against the Oscars broadcast. Most of the Grantland staff only learned through Twitter that Simmons was out and who would replace him (at the moment, Grantland's top editor is Chris Connelly).
“There were 20 F-U’s,” he said. “They knew I was not coming back. He’s not coming back and we have to position this that when it all hits a head, we can blame Grantland, [the site] did not get enough traffic, he was difficult, and all the s--- that wasn’t true. Part of the reason we didn’t get traffic was that they didn’t promote the site. I remember the first week of May I sent an email to all the higher-ups. I said, 'You guys realize you only led ESPN.com with Grantland once in April? Literally once. Do you care or not?' We have no mobile presence at all, we don’t have an app, 46% of our traffic is coming through our main page which is absurd for a website. We are getting no help from other parts of the company. People seem to think ESPN was so helpful for us, and it was actually the opposite. Anyone else would have been helpful. And we had great writers. That’s what killed me.”
ESPN declined comment when reached on Friday about the latest Simmons comments.
Simmons said he believed his relationship with ESPN management started deteriorating with NBA Countdown (he was part of the cast for two years) and “all the problems we had on that show and the fact that I didn’t want to come back for a second season.” Simmons called returning to Countdown in 2013 “the biggest mistake” he made during his ESPN career.
“If you are at any company and you don’t have someone fighting for you, it’s really hard to get s--- done,” Simmons said. “I had a great time there. I did a lot of great things. I have no regrets about anything I did except coming back for that second year of Countdown. It was a great place to work. I got to do Grantland there. I got to meet all these awesome people—the highlight of my career. Got to do '30 for 30.' Got to have a column. Got to have a podcast. It was a great place to work for a long time and the last two years it wasn’t. And that was the problem."