Grantland is a big kid’s club, run by writer Bill Simmons, the biggest kid of them all. The well-known “Sports Guy” columnist at ESPN set out a year ago to create a different kind of site: a place where long-form content that centers on the things he loves: sports and pop culture. Named after the revered sports columnist Grantland Rice, the site is a bit of an odd duckling at ESPN.
It’s an interesting marriage. Simmons has at time chafed at working for ESPN, taking thinly veiled shots at his employer from time to time. And yet with Grantland, he’s got a site that by all indications is doing quite well, mostly thanks to its ESPN parent, which funnels traffic and advertisers to Grantland. Indeed, Grantland, according to Comscore, gets 37 percent of its traffic from ESPN.com.
Grantland taps into ESPN’s sales army that works with advertisers. The outlet says it doesn’t work with ad networks mainly due to the power of ESPN. Having a rich, powerful parent helps in other ways. Grantland started off, as a site with no history and no traffic, with two yearlong sponsorship deals with Unilever and Subway in its pocket. It has been able to add other high-end advertisers like Lexus, Google and Blackberry. Those aren’t deals a niche site, even one headed by a well-known columnist, would likely land without ESPN. But Simmons does have cache, most recently evidenced by his sit down with President Obama.
“What Grantland has going for it, in terms of a viable media property for ad buyers, is you have quality of contributors and the reputations they have and the backing of ESPN,” said Chris Paul, svp of media at Digitas.