For years, Grantland operated on an island, independent of ESPN’s corporate suits. Bill Simmons constantly waged war against Bristol in an attempt to keep Grantland fiercely independent, going so far as to help set up “Exit 31” for its affinity sites.
Eventually, it was a battle he lost. As soon as Simmons was jettisoned from ESPN earlier this year, Grantland was in trouble. And the moves leading up to the site ceasing publication today show the primary reason: ESPN wants total control over its affinity sites.
Three sources told The Big Lead that The Undefeated, which recently got a new editor – 58-year old Kevin Merida from the Washington Post – will be bolstering its staff from less than 10 (which it had under Jason Whitlock) to 32 in the coming months. Expect many writers and editors from Grantland to pivot over to The Undefeated, and others have their work rolled into ESPN.com.
The 58-year old Merida also got a lofty title to leave the Washington Post – Senior Vice President – which vaults him several levels ahead of editors who have been at ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine for years. Whitlock and Simmons were writers who appeared on TV (“talent”) and had independent voices; Merida is a newspaper guy who will tug The Undefeated closer under the corporate umbrella.
(Sources say Merida has quietly added ESPN’s Raina Kelley to the staff. Three weeks ago, The Big Lead reached out to her about it. She denied it at the time.)
How hard did ESPN try to find an editor to run Grantland and play that corporate game? Other than trying to tab writer Sean Fennessey for the job – he passed, and went to work with Simmons on an untitled project – that’s an unanswered question.
The rumored costs to run Grantland yearly fluctuated between $10 and $15 million a year, depending on whom you spoke with. ESPN is looking to trim $100 million from its 2016 budget.