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!

Perplexing.

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 NESN.com?”

  • bostonsportsmediafan

    Want to know where he got the idea for Grantland from?

    See: Malcolm Gladwell

    While I love his writing, what are they, really? Basically all of his pieces in the New Yorker into a book. Easier to sell the book than the New Yorker.

    Still surprised he was able to get someone actually respected to write for him like Gladwell… rather sad.

    Are there any numbers on who/what reads Grantland? I see that ESPN has tried to hype it up at various times, but between talking to friends who consume ESPN/sports media and folks online who might be better canadiates, I'm at a grand total of 0 who read it, and not many more who can stand Simmons.

    • Classless

      It needs to be streamlined more. Some of the content is so specific (like an in-depth WWE piece) that most people won't even glance at it. I see no reason to buy this book at all.

    • bostonsportsmediafan

      Let me clarify one statement:

      Where he got the idea for the Grantland book.

      Blink, Tipping Point, etc are all longer-form essays from his New Yorker writing. Now, it's very well known and I recall he's made no secret of it for years.

    • etak

      I read it. I mean, for sure not all of it (the college football stuff, no thanks), but I scan for folks I'm interested in, etc. (And being a woman and all, I'm not, ostensibly, Simmons' usual audience.)

      (I think The Classical (http://www.theclassical.org/) has more potential, but it's early yet.)

    • etak

      I read it. I mean, for sure not all of it (the college football stuff, no thanks), but I scan for folks I'm interested in, etc. (And being a woman and all, I'm not, ostensibly, Simmons' usual audience.)

  • bostonsportsmediafan

    Didn't catch the Heidi thing on NESN beyond it looking like D+C wanted to "show off" they got Heidi for the last time. In the 5 minutes I watched, where the cameras normally pan away to who is talking, it stuck on her for the entire time… nice to look at for a few minutes and..

    Moving on..

    On the #1 point with NESN, did you see Bruce's post about what they're doing for the Winter Meetings next week? Showing more EPL games!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    On the net worth.. 1999 startup.bomb options, anyone? Likewise, I've heard low seven-digit numbers touted by other "bloggers" who wind up at Barcamps/Meetups around here. 0 sources, paper wealth, and that's success? really? I know the bar for everything has dropped but didn't we learn about this "fake wealth" a decade ago? Losing at least five advertisers after babygate also doesn't exactly pad that stat, as well.

  • tl;138

    I thought Simmons was like Chris Farley in Tommy Boy because he sputters sentence fragments and lights things on fire.

  • Uncle Nunzio

    I love that people still buy "poor, broke sports guy living paycheck to paycheck". Do your homework. Guy showing up to Herald internship in different sports cars, rich parents, no college debt, ESPN connections, etc, etc, etc. He was a bartender for a year. Wow, what a struggle!!!!!! Guy is very successful and deserves all the credit for that but spare me the "struggle" stuff.

  • bostonsportsmediafan

    This was also in the megalinks but it sounds like Chad Finn is a reader of BSMW:
    http://www.boston.com/sports/football/patriots/ar

    It reflects some of the threads here and many of the comments on them.

    Would have been nice for Bruce/Ryan to get a mention or link since it looks like the article took a bit of concepts/source from here.

    • Ryan Hadfield

      He's a FOB as Meter would quip (Friend of Bruce)…

      It is strange because the Watney/Pap comparison was told to me by another media member this earlier this week…And Finn's column ran Friday. Chop it up to it being obvious, I suppose

  • Angry Old Bastard

    I think we all agree Hedi Watney is, "great to look at" and after that..uh…hmm…uh….well…somebody?…Anybody?…what else did she bring to the table?

  • bostonsportsmediafan

    Jim Miller, who did the famous ESPNBook, was on the DP show today:
    http://www.danpatrick.com/2011/12/07/espn-book-au

    Beyond the usual jucy details about Rick Reilly being washed up and gone from there, he indicated that Bill Simmons is the "future" with all the verticle integration. Is this just the world we're in?