For Simmons, who had a contentious relationship with management as his career at ESPN ended, the relationship sounds ideal. The Ringer has struggled without the kind of anchor that ESPN provided Simmons’s first long-form journalism site, Grantland, and Simmons will retain his independent voice. It won’t be as likely for him to butt heads with management now.
In a statement, he cited Vox’s “sales and technology” advantages and the ability to remain independent. “We want to devote the next couple of years to creating quality content, innovating as much as we can, building our brand and growing The Ringer as a multimedia business. And as a bonus, Jim [Bankoff, Vox’s chairman and CEO,] and I have been trying to figure out a way to work together for a few years now, so I’m delighted it worked out.”
Simmons rose to prominence at ESPN, but his career at the network was marked by feuds with other ESPN stars and disputes with management. In September 2014, ESPN took him up on the offer when he dared it to suspend him, making daring profane comments about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the wake of the league’s handling of the Ray Rice and domestic violence incidents. In his popular “BS Podcast,” he also called the commissioner a liar. “I really hope someone calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell. If one person says that to me, I’m going public. You leave me alone. The commissioner is a liar, and I get to talk about that on my podcast. Please, call me and say I’m in trouble. I dare you.”
At that point, the stress fractures with ESPN were showing. His Grantland site was widely respected for its long-form journalism, but the network shuttered it amid claims from Simmons that it was trying to sabotage Grantland. He went on to sign a three-year contract with HBO, but his “Any Given Wednesday” show failed to catch on and was canceled last November after 4 1/2 months. Simmons launched The Ringer last June, and it was seen as an effort to duplicate Grantland. Without the kind of anchor that Grantland had from ESPN, though, The Ringer has struggled to expand its audience. Joining Vox is an attempt to change that.
“Vox Media’s expertise is building strong media brands that go deeper with audiences. We’ve proven that empowering the most talented creators is a successful model for growth,” Bankoff said in a statement. “Bill is one of our industry’s great innovators, with one of its most loyal followings. He shares Vox Media’s commitment to high quality storytelling and branded content. We look forward to working with him and the rest of his talented team, and to including The Ringer in the portfolio of leading media brands that we bring to market.”
A Vox spokesperson said Bankoff and Simmons were unavailable for further comment.