Is Grantland DOA?

Grantland, the highly anticipated “boutique” spinoff of ESPN, launched yesterday.

It may already be doomed, at least if you ask The Atlantic’s Nicholas Jackson.

The problems, he writes, are legion: the editor in chief, Bill Simmons, hates to be managed and doesn’t know how to manage; his staff is overpaid, and ESPN doesn’t know what its doing, in short.

That’s a bit harsh for a site that just launched yesterday and has names attached to it like Chuck Klosterman and Dave Eggers.

But here are Jackson’s arguments, for argument’s sake:

  • “Bill Simmons doesn’t hold anything back…If he’s bored, he’s going to let you know about it.”
  • “Maybe one reason that Bill Simmons hates so much to be managed is that he’s never worked on the other end, he’s never been a manager. And, as Huffington is struggling after going from managing a staff of about 70 to overseeing AOL’s 1,300-strong newsroom, I predict Simmons will struggle as he transitions from managing a team of exactly zero to the dozen or so people responsible for Grantland.”
  • “Simmons told [Jonathan] Mahler [of the New York Times] that Grantland will be to ESPN what Miramax was to Disney, “a boutique division with more room for creativity.” But ESPN is essentially telling its primary audience that its regular website and magazine aren’t good enough. Or that the readers of those publications aren’t good enough, anyway.”
  • “Yes, Grantland’s “murderer’s row of talent” is (“HOLY SH*T”) impressive, but that’s just another reason why it’s going to fail. These people are way too expensive for what Simmons is trying to do.”
  • “Expect another of Simmons’s fits as he tries to mold Grantland into his own shape, one that will conflict with ESPN’s wish to draw an elite audience and conflict with the aspirations of the writers he has attracted. If Bill Simmons wins the war and ESPN sheds some of the expensive talent it’s already promised a position on the masthead, the site might eventually work. It might actually be something new…We’re going to go long, Simmons warns his profiler. And that means, he must hope, 5,000 words on boobs. Hell, even I would read that.”

Our take, if you want it:

The site looks less like a sports site and more like it’s trying to be McSweeney’s. (That’s the Eggers influence again, we guess.) But ESPN is paying these talented guys some decent money and they’ll turn out some good journalism that people will read. The key, of course, is paying for it, but that’s where the 5,000 words on boobs come in. In the meantime give the thing a chance.