After 14 years, the most notorious relationship in sports media has reached its end: Today, ESPN announced that it has broken off negotiations with star personality Bill Simmons, who will leave the sports behemoth when his contract is up this fall.
The news was broken by the New York Times’ Richard Sandomir, who was told by ESPN president John Skipper that the network decided that they would not be able to come to terms on a new contract with Simmons. Said Skipper in a statement:
“I decided today that we are not going to renew Bill Simmons’ contract. We have been in negotiations and it was clear it was time to move on. ESPN’s relationship with Bill has been mutually beneficial - he has produced great content for us for many years and ESPN has provided him many new opportunities to spread his wings. We wish Bill continued success as he plans his next chapter. ESPN remains committed to Grantland and we have a strong team in place.”
Where most corporate overtures leave little to chew on, this one is pretty juicy. ESPN, or perhaps Skipper himself, very much wanted it to be known that the network sees itself as the one doing the breaking up here. When Simmons has criticized ESPN in the past, the network has usually responded with the sort of rote language you would expect from a company owned by Disney, but today they made a concerted effort to leave Simmons out to dry.
It is the culmination of a visible public relations battle between Simmons and ESPN that has been going on for years, but picked up in intensity this past September, when the network suspended Simmons for three weeks after he dared them to retaliate against him for calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell an idiot.
Money was surely a sticking point in the negotiations of Simmons’ new deal—sports media reporter Jason McIntyre suggested on Twitter today that Simmons was looking for at least $6 million (over what time period, he did not specify)—but Skipper more or less made it clear that, at least on the network’s end, the personality fit had reached a point where it was no longer tenable.
Skipper said that the differences between the company and Simmons were “about more than money,” although he would not offer details.
Two questions now remain: What will happen to Simmons, of course, and what will happen to Grantland, the sports and pop culture site he had built in his own image, with ESPN’s money but little of their meddling.
That first question will be debated endlessly all summer, so let’s table it for now. As for Grantland, Skipper said in his statement that the network “remains committed” to the site. Whether its writers and editors—most of whom could have new jobs on Monday if they wanted them—feel the same way remains to be seen.
[image via Getty]