SBD/November 10, 2011/Events and Attractions

SMT Conference: Bill Simmons Talks Grantland, "30 For 30" During One-On-One

Simmons said he "couldn’t be happier" with success of Grantland.com so far
Bill Simmons talked about his new site, Grantland.com, and also dished about the “30 for 30” series on ESPN, sports writing today and the NBA lockout during a wide-ranging, one-on-one interview at the 2011 Sports Media & Technology conference. On whether he considers Grantland, which launched in June, a success, Simmons said: “I couldn’t be happier. We probably launched three months before we should have. We didn’t have a full staff until the end of August [and] we had a lot of people working seven-day weeks. But I’m glad we did it that way because the NBA Finals were in motion. If we had launched in July or August it would have been bad. Bottom line is the second and third months of the site, we had two lockouts, baseball in midseason, which nobody really cares about, women’s World Cup, Wimbledon. ... It’s so much easier now with pro football and college football.” On how he would describe Grantland: “It’s been called a long form website, but it was never intended to be that way. It was always intended to be entertaining. We wanted to write big stuff, like the oral histories that we’ve done and the bigger features … but one of our signature columns so far, in terms of popularity, has been the ‘Reality TV Scorecard,’ which runs every Friday. I don’t agree that it’s a long form site. We’ve tried going the quality route vs. the quantity route. Blogs are putting up stuff constantly and immediacy was the most important thing you could have. My feeling is that there is a place for that, but there’s also a place for people who like to read, who like to read stuff that people put a lot of thought into and don’t want to feel overwhelmed.”

CONTENT WANTS TO BE FREE? On whether he would ever put Grantland behind a paywall: “I will never make anyone pay for anything on the Internet. This is something I believed in from the get-go. I’ve been in a situation where I didn’t have money, and with college kids and people in their 20s out there, it’s a lot to ask $29.99 or whatever. It’s lazy to say you can’t get this stuff paid for. ... [The site] made money this year. It’s going to make more next year.” On whether Grantland is a standalone business: “Hell, yeah. We went out ahead of time and we got sponsors to commit. We got Subway and Unilever and Lexus. ... We want to have relationships with sponsors where they’re integrated on the site and come up with ways to make them feel like they didn’t just cut us a check.” On the design of the site: “It wasn’t smart and we’re fixing that. We tried to do this classic design that wasn’t that hard to see everything. We found that people just gravitate towards the main [center] well. They don’t even look on the sides. We have to design that part to make everything jump out.”

YOU CAN’T FAKE IT: On his responsibilities with the site affecting his writing: “I’ve actually been writing a little more than I did during my last year-and-a-half at ESPN. Following sports has been the hardest. You have to follow things at a certain level and be sophisticated enough about everything that’s going on. You can’t fake it. I’ve been in situations with writers that I like where you could tell that they don’t care any more. You can tell they’re not following sports and you can tell that they’re writing about what they think they should be writing about. They don’t actually give a shit. I think when that day comes you should stop doing a sports column. I still care about sports. I still follow it.”

QUICK HITS:

On the NBA labor situation:
Simmons: “You could see where this was going … I just don’t ever feel like there should be a labor stoppage when people are this close. I think the NHL situation was a lot different because they had a blue-collar sport which had white-collar ticket prices and salaries were out of control. They needed to change everything and they needed to cancel the season to get that done. That isn’t the case here. The [NBA] is doing well. ... For the owners it seems like business, and players it really seems like it’s personal. They don’t trust the owners. They don’t trust [Commissioner David] Stern. They don’t trust the info they’re getting. ... It’s become more than just a labor negotiation. ... And I don’t think anyone is going to care if the lockout gets settled. You’ve got the Penn State story, which is the biggest story of the past 10 years. You’ve got pro football and college. You have the holidays coming up. Nobody is going around thinking ‘I can’t believe the NBA’s not here.’ That’s not going to kick in until April. ... That’s when people normally get their basketball fix. ... If this would have happened with the NFL, people would have flipped out. In the NBA, there’s just not that passion.”

On his favorite ESPN “30 for 30” film:
Simmons: “I wouldn’t pick a favorite. There are probably five I like for different reasons that personify the series. One of them is ‘The Two Escobars’ which was really just creative and ambitious. The degree of difficulty on it was just incredible. ... Same thing for ‘June 17, 1994,’ which is an idea we all collectively came up with. ... The Marcus Dupree film. The Reggie Miller film. ... But we’re talking about doing another round of these because our 35th anniversary is in 2014. Maybe 35 for 35. But the easy part this time will be getting directors. Maybe the first time around, people didn’t totally trust ESPN.

On which project he liked that didn’t make “30 for 30”:
Simmons: “I always thought Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were a natural and it was on the initial list. Then we went to Strawberry and he said he needed $200,000 to be involved. ... The Dream Team was also one. ... That could be one of the great ones ever.”

On what he would change about sports media:
Simmons: “I think Twitter is going to be a real danger to sports writing eventually. It’s funny because Twitter has been great for me ... but I don’t see the value of tweeting 50 or 100 times per day.”

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