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Sports Media Musings: Bill Simmons Stars In Tommy Boy, Lessons from Portnoy, Quick Musings


Bill Simmons doesn’t like making you pay for his content. I believe that. I really do.

On his podcast with Chuck Klosterman, before his best-selling tome The Book of Basketball was released,  Simmons rationalized the 700 page length saying, “I didn’t want to split it up into two volumes. I hate making people pay for my stuff.”

This made the Sports Guy’s column last Thursday that much more compelling. The first half of the piece detailed reasons why the Grantland Quarterly, um, exists and also, um, why you should buy it!


The book, essentially, is a cumulative collection of Grantland pieces. Almost like a “Best Of” from the first three months of the site’s existence. Of course this can all be had by clicking on the Grantland archives, but that is neither here nor there.

Here are the five reasons given why this even exists —

1.) Simmons wanted to have something physical to exist in case the internet blew up (he joked). He admits having something tangible is a completely selfish reason. Okay, then.

2.) The book’s goal is capturing ‘the period’ in sports history. What he actually means is reading the pieces and remembering what that period meant. Though, when talking about this in detail, Simmons recalls the struggles of writing around two lockouts, being understaffed, and trying to launch the site. Where does the consumer come in? Are we supposed to have our own thoughts on Grantland’s oral history on the National? Because I don’t have an emotional connection to that piece besides, maybe, ‘This is interesting.’

3.) Probably the only consumer-based reason: Re-inventing the product to book form (to take on the beach or vacation with you) and also adding small retrospective changes to the columns.

4.) From most logical to most self-serving, Simmons talks about creating the collection for his father. I don’t really have anything to say besides, “Put it in a card, dude.”

5.) Finally, Simmons gives a pitch on why the quarterly is a great buy and an even better gift!

If you give the Quarterly out as a holiday present to someone who doesn’t know Grantland, they’ll open it, feel the cover, see the drawings and special wrinkles and think, My God, you shouldn’t have!!!!!

Then, Simmons went there. The “Exclusive Club” sales pitch route…

We printed a relatively small number of them; once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Simmons, who is the earliest benefactor of the Internet age in sports journalism, portrays himself as a man of the people. He writes from a fan’s perspective. Even through his prolific success, the Sports Guy has maintained that voice. He is conventional wisdom.

(The bitter blogosphere will tell you otherwise)

Consequently, the strangest aspect of this whole pitch was Simmons struggling through his own agendas while telling us why we should buy the Quarterly like he is Chris Farley in Tommy Boy. His own trepidation of sounding like an infomercial on NESN is palpable. (Had to get that dig in there)

Your default mechanism might be “That’s a lot of money” or “Why would I pay for stuff I already read?” Believe me, I get it — I hate making people pay for content. Actually, I hate making people pay for anything. Once upon a time, I was creditors-chasing-me-down-for-outstanding-bills-from-two-years-ago broke. I remember being 30 years old and still looking forward to Papa Gino’s “All You Can Eat Pizza” night for $5.99 (I think it was Tuesdays) and thinking, I graduated from college eight years ago, there’s something totally wrong with this picture.

This is the first time I’ve seen Simmons struggle with himself. He tries to see the illogical point of view in this purchase through the eyes of the former version of himself (the bartender – living paycheck to paycheck ). But once you reach a point of success, part of you changes by nature. Simmons isn’t in Cambridge watching 90210 re-runs anymore. He is the guy who accidentally broke the Randy Moss trade via Twitter last year and has made a kajillion dollars off Ralph Macchio references.

Quick Musings

1.) 12:30 pm last Friday, an hour before the early season showdown between the Bruins and Red Wings, NESN showed a re-run of NESN Daily. CSNNE countered with a pre-game show featuring the usual suspects. The game was nationally televised on NBC (who obviously work in conjunction with CSNNE), and CSNNE had immediate post-game analysis.

NESN had a breakdown of the action at 10 pm that night, nearly 6 hours after the game was over. I’m telling you, it’s one thing to avoid teams you don’t broadcast (although, I still think that’s reprehensible) but NESN is teetering a line with their Bruins coverage that I wouldn’t venture.

2.) I do, on the other hand, enjoy Dale Arnold leading the pre/post game shows on NESN. He’s landed nicely.

3.) I refuse to talk about Heidi Watney’s appearance on “Dennis & Callahan” yesterday. As one prominent media member told me, “Her exit has gotten more play than Jonathan Papelbon.”

4.) Saw David Portnoy, El Presidente of Barstool Sports, talk at Northeastern the other night. I asked him if he regretted “Baby-Gate” and – as always – Portnoy delivered his, “No, I look back and I still think that was a funny post.” Also after he conceded he’s older and sees his role posting lewd material diminishing, Portnoy quipped, “I’ll always be El Presidente!”

Say what you want, and I’ve said plenty, Portnoy is extremely successful. He admitted much of the business side of Barstool is “ass-backwards,” and is not sure how to deal with logistics of sophisticated financial dealings (like giving others equity). HOWEVER, the guy is worth $2 million and understands the street side of business (brand promotion, staying true to your audience, etc).

5.) Speaking of Portnoy, El Presidente took a nice jab at NESN’s Michael Hurley for ‘stealing’ a Barstool post. He even went to said-post and commented, “Where have I seen this?”

My first thought was, “Well it’s the Internet, and this sort of content cycles and isn’t really owned by Barstool. Even if Hurley DID get it from BSS, it’s not really stealing.”

@nesnmhurley when you just post our exact post 5 seconds after we do we get inundated with people slamming you. Keep it clean brah

My next thought was, “People actually read”

About Ryan Hadfield

Ryan Hadfield is the author of the weekly Sports Media Musings column at Sports Of Boston. Hadfield is known as one of the top sports media critics in Boston. He also contributes to Boston Sports Media Watch. In November 2011, Hadfield helped launch the new SoB Point Taken blog featuring his podcasts & musings on sports, media and culture. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

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