Bill Simmons is never shy from getting into the mix. Hell, he’s not shy in the first place and his relative lack of filter can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on who you talk with. But that’s what can make him undeniably refreshing — he’s one of “us.”
He’s also fearless, which was laid bare when his rift with ESPN over the closure of the sports/pop culture site Grantland became public and messy (read: entertaining in a way).
But Simmons clearly isn’t the type of person to just stop, as he's launched his podcasting network and has announced the name of his new site.
The Ringer is scheduled to get going in earnest sometime in 2016 and was launched with a landing page and a link to subscribe to a newsletter. This looks to be a jewel in the Bill Simmons Media Group crown.
There’s no denying that Simmons can build an audience. He started as a high school reporter for the Boston Herald and while bartending to make ends meet, started BostonSportsGuy.com in 1997 on Digital City Boston (an AOL property). For the first 18 months of its existence, he had a mailing list of 100 people — but the “sharing economy” was good to Simmons - by 2001, his site blossomed to 10,000 readers a day. ESPN took notice and in 2001 recruited him to write guest columns — one of which, “Is (Roger) Clemens the Antichrist”, was the one of the most e-mailed articles on the site (pre-Facebook era.)
There’s no denying that Simmons is a “builder” in the first place. While at ESPN, he came up with the idea for ESPN’s excellent 30 for 30 documentary series. He was also early in the podcasting game. He also took his talents to E:60, ESPN’s investigative journalism property.
It will be interesting to see how The Ringer evolves. Some are calling it Grantland II — which might not be too far off since a number of former Grantland staffers have made the move with him along with new hires like former Glamour editor Amanda Dobbins, who will lead the site’s culture coverage.
There may be a roadmap for success in place. Glenn Beck roamed off the Fox News ranch and started The Blaze. No matter where one sits on the political spectrum, he cannot be dinged for his ambition and scope after going out on his own.
That’s not to say that Simmons will go this route, but for someone as smart as he is, with an already built-in, ravenous audience, it’s more than likely that this will be the beginning of an interesting (and profitable) journey — and there will still be time for a few pokes at his former employer from time to time.