Bill Simmons Is Moving His Sports Media Empire Again

by Mathew on May 30, 2017

When sportscaster Bill Simmons left ESPN and subsequently started a new publication called The Ringer, in partnership with the blogging platform Medium, it was seen as a huge loss for Disney-owned ESPN. Now, Simmons is on the move again — this time to Vox Media.

Vox CEO Jim Bankoff told the Wall Street Journal he sees Simmons and The Ringer as a strong brand that will fit well with the company’s portfolio. Vox Media, whose financial backers include NBCUniversal, operates a range of sites including The Verge, Recode and the sports-blog network SB Nation.

Simmons will retain ownership of The Ringer and its various offshoots, which include a successful podcast that he started while at ESPN. Bankoff said Vox and Simmons will share the advertising revenue from those assets, although the exact ratio was not made public.

Before he left in 2015, Simmons was one of the stars of the ESPN universe, thanks to the audience he had built up for Grantland, the standalone sports and culture site he created for the network. His departure was seen by many as a sign that ESPN was losing traction with sports fans, and he made no secret of the fact that the parting was acrimonious.

Sources at ESPN, meanwhile, said at the time that Grantland was mostly a vanity project for Simmons and didn’t really generate enough traffic or advertising revenue to make it worthwhile for the site to continue, in part because of Simmon’s $3-million salary.

After leaving the sports network, Simmons signed a high-profile deal with HBO to produce and star in an interview show called Any Given Wednesday. But despite his passionate following in the sports world, the program failed to generate much positive buzz, and it was eventually shelved just four months after it launched.

When the show launched, HBO became an investor in Simmons’ holding company, which produced the show and his other ventures. It’s unclear what role the broadcast network will have in the current relationship with Vox, or whether Simmons will continue working with HBO as well.

Several months after he left ESPN, Simmons announced that he was starting a new venture called The Ringer, and that it would be hosted by Medium, the blogging platform founded by Twitter co-founder and former CEO Evan Williams. At the time, the site was busy signing up to host a number of external publishers and content companies.

Earlier this year, however, Medium announced that it was pivoting its business away from advertising revenue to a subscription-based model, which reportedly took a number of its publishing partners by surprise and made them rethink their desire to be hosted there.

Vox Media, meanwhile, said that if The Ringer experiment works well, the company may consider opening its platform and network up to other publishers or content creators in the same way. “We may do others, but we will be very selective,” Bankoff told the Journal. “We only want to work with the best and with sites that are consistent with our approach.”

Bankoff, a former executive at AOL, joined what became Vox in 2008. At the time, the company consisted primarily of SB Nation, a network of hundreds of individual blogs written by fans of different local sports teams.

In addition to sites like The Verge, Polygon and Vox, the company also owns Recode, which was previously known as All Things Digital and was at one time co-owned by the Wall Street Journal. In 2015, NBCUniversal invested $200 million in Vox, giving it a theoretical valuation of almost $1 billion at the time.

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