Goodbye Grantland – the best sport content you may never have read
On Friday the 30th October, global sports powerhouse ESPN made the shock announcement that its most popular offshoot website, Grantland, would stop publishing. In one unexpected, tragic and uncompromising moment, the sports universe lost one of its most unique, brave and brilliant publishers.
The announcement stimulated a huge reaction on both sides of the Atlantic, with ‘Grantland’ even trending on twitter in the UK on Friday evening. The outpouring of support was huge, with many fans sharing their favourite Grantland articles. In my eyes, it was an entirely justified reaction, and one that showed just what a cult following the site had.
Since 2011 Grantland, led by former editor and chief Bill Simmons, delivered some of the richest sports content on the internet. It was unquestionably home to some of the internet’s best writing, and a unique blending of sport and pop culture. Simmons built Grantland from the ground up (backed by ESPN) by hiring a selection of high quality young writers and giving them a free reign for expression. They were empowered to push the boundaries, and the result is some of the most powerful writing you will ever read. To use just one of many great examples, take this poignant and brilliant piece of writing on the NFL’s culture of violence - http://grantland.com/features/richie-incognito-jonathan-martin-miami-dolphins-bullying-scandal/
The story of the death of Grantland is one of politics not publishing. Its creator, Bill Simmons found himself on the wrong side of the ESPN corporate machine one time too many, and ESPN terminated his contract. Since Simmons departed, followed by several of his colleagues, Grantland has not been the same, and ESPN decided Friday that it had reached the end of the road.
It was, above all, a sad end for a title that was one of the most unique in its style. Grantland was one of the last great sources of long form writing, in sports or otherwise. In an age when sports analysis is generally presented in bite size junks, designed for a scroll down generation, Grantland would regularly post long form articles of 7000-10000 words in length. In the world of online sports journalism, where quick hit analysis is king, Grantland was the home of long, considered and in-depth analysis.
Grantland also innovated in other areas, including with short form video and video podcasting. Leading the way in what is now standard practice for all the best sports publishers. However, it is the use of long form writing that I’ll miss most. While we demand our sports content quick, easy to consume and entertaining, it isn’t enough just to have the quick hit, quick take, easy win of short form content. Sport has endless subplots, storylines and hidden gems, and reducing these to 30 second video doesn’t get close to doing them justice. There is still room for real thought and analysis, something we’ll miss without Grantland.
Grantland stood out in the type of content, but also in what they wrote about. This was perhaps the area where Grantland stood out most from its parent company ESPN. It was a website that described its focus as ‘Sport and Pop Culture.’ Many websites publish sport content alongside music, film, celebrity news content etc., but they kept it entirely separate, split out into their own sections etc. Grantland published everything in the same feed, but they also blurred together all these types of content. Features such as the recurring ‘who won 2014’ show that sport and pop culture were very much seen together, not apart. In reality, sport is part of pop culture. Sports fans aren’t just sport fans, they also like music and films and care about their favourite celebrities as much as their favourite athletes. Sport should not be seen in isolation from the rest of pop culture, something Grantland understood completely, and any brand marketing to sports fans should as well. A source at ESPN reportedly said ‘we’re out of the pop culture business’. If this turns out to be true, it will be a step backwards from the work done by Bill Simmons and the website he built.
Grantland died because its owner fell out with his bosses just too many times. Its formula, innovation in content and merging of sport and pop culture, deserves a chance to continue. ESPN may be out of the pop culture business, but other sports publishers shouldn’t. In the rush to short form content, the beauty of long form analysis shouldn’t be ignored. The entire Grantland archive is still available to read at http://grantland.com/ and I’d implore you to take a look. Grantland died, but its brilliance in editorial deserves to live on.