SBD/February 18, 2011/Media

Bill Simmons Says New Website Project Will Focus 70% On Sports, 30% Pop Culture

Simmons' new site, while owned by ESPN, will not carry its branding
It still does not have a name and it has not hired a top editor, but Bill Simmons unveiled details of his new project, which will be a website that will be 70% sports and 30% pop culture. It is expected to launch in late April or mid-May. And while it will be fully owned by ESPN, its eventual name will not carry the ESPN brand. "This is something that was really important to me when my contract was up at the end of last year," Simmons told THE DAILY. "It's going to have a bunch of quality writers. And it's going to have the flexibility to have a lot of people come in and write one time a year or a couple of times a year, whatever." Simmons would not say who he has hired to write for the site, other than Chuck Klosterman and Katie Baker. "We're going to start with somewhere between 8 to 12 writers that will be on staff fulltime and some freelance people that will be involved on a weekly or bi-weekly basis or a monthly basis," Simmons said. The site will depend on sponsorships, with Simmons saying that his goal is to cap the number of advertisers at between five and 10 "and make them more like partners." He drew a parallel with the ESPN documentary series "30 for 30," which focused on signing a few sponsors. "They were integrated with everything we did. I feel like they were happy with how the arrangement worked out," Simmons said. "I think it's possible to do that with a website." By limiting the number of sponsors, Simmons believes that the site will not become a slave to page views and a minimum number of posts per day.

PODCAST NETWORK POSSIBLE: Simmons also hopes to set up a network of podcasts, patterned after Adam Carolla, Kevin Smith and NPR. Simmons' podcast, "The B.S. Report," is the most popular sports podcast on iTunes. "We are going to have some podcasts beyond just mine. We're going to create a couple of new ones and, maybe, have a little bit of a network," Simmons said. "If we could brand some sort of a network that has a stable of podcasts, that will help the site, too." Walter Bernard is designing the site. "The hope is that people will go to this site, and they won't feel overwhelmed," Simmons said. "That's a problem with some of the mainstream sites. There's so much content that people have trouble trying to discern what's worth reading and what's worth their time."

Q: It sounds to me like the site is going to be a sports version of the Huffington Post.
Simmons: Not really. I would say it's an extension of the stuff that I've been doing for the last 10 years, not just with the column, but with "30 for 30."

Q: What would you compare it to?
Simmons: Ideally, the model would be Mirimax-Disney, where ESPN.com would be Disney --­ more traditional. We'd be Mirimax, and we'd get a little more leeway creatively. Creative leeway was really important to me. The first few years, Mirimax got to take chances with some of the movies they picked that maybe Disney couldn't have picked. That's what I'm hoping is going to happen here from a writing standpoint.

Q: If the site were up-and-running today, what would be on the home page?
Simmons: It's more columns and features. It's more like the stuff that I'm doing. The one guy that we have who's going to be a full-time contributor is Chuck Klosterman. This is going to be the place that he writes. Whether he writes a feature or a column or a 500-word blog post, it's going to be on this site. We're going to have a couple blogs, we're not going to have 40 of them. There might be some days where we have four new things up. There might be days where we have nine. It would depend on the day.

Q: Will you post any news?
Simmons: The site's going to complement ESPN.com. I don't want to compete with it. That umbilical cord is really important to me. We're keeping my box on the main page. The box that I have on the main page is going to shift to a box on the site with the last four or five links.

Q: What is ESPN's involvement with this?
Simmons: ESPN fully owns it. It's going to be separate. I'm proud of ESPN for this. People take shots at ESPN. Sometimes they're deserved, sometimes they're not. The one thing you have to do if you're a successful company is you can't just rest on the fact that you're a successful company. ESPN makes $3 billion per year of profit. That doesn't mean that they shouldn't take chances.
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