Friday, September 26, 2014

Why Bill Simmons Isn't Leaving ESPN

Courtesy: TMZ
The tension between ESPN's management and Bill Simmons has reached an all-time high. Although there have been many tumultuous incidents during Simmons' tenure with the Worldwide Leader, as depicted by Deadspin, none of his fights with his bosses have been as controversial as the fight happening this time around.

But in my opinion, both sides will eventually reach cooler-heads and will continue to co-exist. Here's why. Simmons has nowhere else to go. Don't believe me? Let's go down the list.

FOX - 

The positives: Fox is based out of L.A. just as Simmons is. 

The negatives: Fox doesn't have the rights to anything which Simmons is interested in covering like the NBA or NCAA Tournament basketball. Not to mention, Simmons doesn't like Fox very much after they tried to prove to the general public that they would be better than ESPN because they'd be more "fun." Fox's online presence isn't that great either. 

Fox recently signed a deal with Sporting News to share online content and while they recently ranked as the #1 online sports video destination combined, they still haven't found a way to garner pageviews on their articles from various columnists. Simmons will bring in his own base to the site but it's going to be difficult to change the habits of a regular sports fan who occasionally reads Simmons because he's on ESPN's website. Would that kind of reader be willing to add Fox Sports to their diet or would they just stick with ESPN and find another writer to read?

Turner - 

The positives: TNT has rights to the NBA and Simmons could play a role on "Inside the NBA" or on NBA TV.

The negatives: Simmons is not fond of the Bleacher Report much either. Simmons would also lose the major television presence he's getting on ESPN because NBA TV and "Inside the NBA" don't reach the same amount of viewers on a daily basis which ESPN does.

NBC - 

The positives: Simmons could work on "Sunday Night Football" as an essayist and could possibly get his work distributed to Yahoo Sports through NBC's deal with Yahoo. Simmons could also call Boston Celtics games on Comcast SportsNet Boston.

The negatives: No NBA rights and limited air time. "SNF" already has a gazillion faces, would they really want to add yet another face? Also, NBCSN has nowhere near the same reach which ESPN does. If you don't believe me, just ask Michelle Beadle

I doubt CBS would consider him because they're a very reserved, conservative organization that doesn't sign firebrand names. In fact, they've been getting rid of many online writers who have transferred themselves over to ESPN. 

I'd also take Yahoo out of the equation even though they're the highest read sports website in the land. Other than their partnerships with "GMA" and NBC Sports, they don't have any television presence and it is very unlikely that either of those two outlets would ever cease airtime or editorial control to Simmons without getting a piece of the pie which could prove too bureaucratic for Simmons' tastes. We also haven't seen much come out of their recent Katie Couric deal (although a devil's advocate could argue that it's still pretty early).

So where does this leave Simmons? Well, The Big Lead is reporting that Simmons could start his own venture backed by a bunch of rich investors with contributions from Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla. But could that type of outlet ever have much influence without a mainstream media backer? Carolla doesn't reach many people other than his superfans. He's able to make enough money to gain a profit but he doesn't have a voice which most Americans know or have heard of. Does Simmons want to risk becoming a misnomer among sports fans by going independent?

We know that Simmons is popular (hence why a #FreeSimmons trend was started on Twitter after news of his suspension was announced) but is he popular enough to have consistent customers who will support the advertisers who sponsor his page or will pay a monthly subscription fee if he goes that route?

At the end of the day, ESPN is the lesser and most dependent of two evils. Simmons has founded his own website, has an extremely popular podcast and produces some of the best sports documentaries ever all courtesy of ESPN's dime. Does he really want to take on all of those financial headaches and obligations independently? And even if he were to find another mainstream partner besides ESPN, would they ever be able to attain the reach which the Worldwide Leader has? I doubt it. 

Bill Simmons needs ESPN more than ESPN needs Simmons. 

The Boston Sports Guy can survive without ESPN. Dan Patrick has and he's doing extremely well. So has Rich Eisen, who will soon have a small little empire of his own courtesy of Patrick's partners at DirecTV (another contender for Simmons' services). 

But, Simmons might end up ceding his crown as America's most popular sportswriter without ESPN's backing, support and reach. There's no one in the sports media industry as extravagant and huge as the four-letter network.

What does Bill Simmons think? I guess we'll find out after his contract expires next year.


Bill Simmons Out At NBA Countdown

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