Unlike many around the Interwebz, we’re not Bill Simmons haters. We read every column, think he’s entertaining and we too enjoy the Real World/Road Rules Challenge from time to time. So we were excited for today’s launch of Grantland, Simmons’ new sports/pop culture site which has attracted the writing talents of some serious heavy hitters, including Malcolm Gladwell, Chuck Klosterman and Dave Eggers. And we still are excited. Today’s debut has original pieces by Simmons, Klosterman and New York Times writer Jonathan Abrams among others.
But, forgetting content for a moment, at first glance there’s something that needs addressing: the ridiculously tacky ads. Simmons and his podcast have a longstanding relationship with Subway. Still, we were a little surprised to see a small banner at the top corner noting that the site is “presented by Subway” (it also seems to alternatively be “presented by Klondike”). For a site that aspires to the greatness of Spy, that’s pretty shameless. The LA Times took flack for putting ads on its front page. What if the whole operation was sponsored by AEG? Wouldn’t look so good, right?
We get that in order to bring writers like Gladwell aboard you have to pay the bills. But come on. This was supposed to be Simmons’ edgy realm, unbound by the constraints of his more commercial ESPN ventures.
And the advertising continues. There’s another long banner underneath the Grantland moniker. And that’s it–at least for what you can see when you first click on the site. You have to scroll down to see any headlines. And when you do, there’s yet another fat Subway ad sitting in the middle of the content box. It is the most obnoxiously visible thing on the entire site, completely obscuring the headlines.
That kind of shameless advertising may fly in the sports journalism world, where dudes are really just looking for something to pass the time while taking a crap, but in the larger worlds of literary and cultural criticism–again, where Grantland is trying to position itself–that ain’t gonna work. Gladwell doesn’t have a piece on the site yet, but we’ll see how long he lasts with his byline buried beneath two or three epileptic-fit-inducing Subway ads.