ESPN president John Skipper broke his silence on the shuttering of Grantland on Sunday, saying ill will toward the site’s founder Bill Simmons had nothing to do with the decision to close down the site.
“I made the decision,” Skipper told Vanity Fair. “There was no influence from [ESPN corporate parent] Disney on this.”
Skipper and Simmons’ tumultuous relationship is no secret, but the ESPN chief explained, “I made sure that I divorced my feelings about Bill [Simmons] from this decision because I would never let that affect the people who are there.”
Skipper admitted he wasn’t fully tuned in to the bond between Simmons and Grantland’s cult following.
“We lacked a full understanding of the bonding nature between Bill and those guys,” he said, adding that he underestimated how staff would react to a new leader in Chris Connelly.
“Chris was only going to be interim,” Skipper says. “It wasn’t his desire to be a long-term manager there. He made that clear to us. Chris is nothing but a good guy. This has been hard on him.”
The decision to shutter Grantland was not unanimous within ESPN’s ranks, Skipper revealed. “Surprisingly, it was fairly divided internally among the people closest to me about whether we could go or not.”
He concluded that the decision to shutter the site was never about the bottom line.
“You look at the resources, the time, the energy necessary to do this well and balance that with the things you get from it. This was never a financial matter for us. The benefits were having a halo brand and being Bill Simmons related.”
Last week, Simmons called out ESPN for the “appalling” way it shut down the site.
“I loved everyone I worked with at G and loved what we built. Watching good/kind/talented people get treated so callously = simply appalling,” Simmons tweeted shortly after news of the shuttering broke.