Grantland’s Demise Leaves Us Bereft
Grantland getting axed just highlights the real problem non-dumbass sports fan have had for a while – ESPN sucks. It used to be almost impossibly awesome, then it became a perfectly useful if not especially interesting utility, and then it actually started getting terrible. At this point, it’s a bag of money with television rights for a bunch of things you want to watch, and that’s it. Any journalistic value it used to have has been undercut by its dependency on access from the leagues it ostensibly covers. Bill Simmons and Grantland aren’t worth paying $20 million a year for, but Stephen A. Smith and what’s his face are worth investments at $5 million a piece or whatever.
“But Grantland was losing money!”
I know that. Everyone knows that. And I didn’t say running the site made business sense in a vacuum – but ESPN isn’t in a vacuum. Does “Outside the Lines” really make money? Or does it simply give ESPN the credibility it needs to function as a media outlet people are willing to value as anything other than a direct conduit for televised games?
ESPN is being – has been, really – ruined by the same things that ruin most for-profit enterprises; the illusion that success is never enough, and that business growth that doesn’t happen through an impersonal formula isn’t predictable enough to build a company on. It has to be bigger, better, in front of more eyeballs, and it has to do all of that without needing anyone who can’t be immediately replaced by someone cheaper or less interesting. So in a world where people are deciding that ESPN isn’t worth the money, they’ve decided to remove any semblance of things that might make it, well, worth the money.
In the short-term, this is the right way to get their financial house in order. In the long term, they’re doomed. Now that ESPN really and truly stands for literally nothing (not even irreverence, which used to be a huge part of what they did, and had found a new form at Grantland), they have no real reason to exist. And that means, eventually, they won’t.