The somewhat inevitable has finally come to pass, and Bill Simmons, the most successful sports commentator of the 21st century, has split with ESPN, the most successful sports broadcasting organization of the 21st century. Simmons, who fashioned an impressive résumé out of his prototypical Internet-isms — he was the first widely read sportswriter quicker to quote Top Gun than Grantland Rice — has had an undeniable impact on the way that sports fans discuss their favorite players, teams, and leagues across the country.
While his writing was always more of a Big Mac than a gourmet offering, Simmons did for ESPN what ESPN couldn’t do for itself: He brought in the T-shirt wearing, HBO binging demographic that besuited bellowers like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith were bound to alienate. And, of course, he was instrumental in the creation of 30 for 30, which is almost certainly his most significant contribution to the sports universe.
For a while, things were good. ESPN’s Page 2 (remember that?) was a monkey house of great reads that you could find even if you weren’t Internet-savvy enough to know about Free Darko, and the Boston Sports Guy turned Sports Guy turned New York Times best-selling author turned admittedly awful television talking head was using his new audience to promote his own brand as well as the company. He ultimately birthed Grantland, a Simmonsian paradise where sports and lowbrow culture could lark together on Internet parquet in idyllic freedom. Or something. Whatever it was, Jalen Rose was there, baseball bat in hand.
That age is now over. ESPN is keeping Grantland, and Simmons is bound for destinations unknown. But where can he go? Who else can offer him a similar gig? The answers are in the future for now, but here are our three best guesses.
1. Fox Sports 1
Launched in 2013, FS1 is probably the largest company that would be eager for a talent acquisition of the size that signing Simmons would be. While it’s not as large as, say, Sports Illustrated, it’s also certainly more starved for content and commentators, and would give Simmons the freedom and backing he apparently wasn’t receiving from ESPN. On the other hand, it doesn’t carry any NBA or NFL broadcasts, which are the Sports Guy’s bread and butter.
2. Bleacher Report
If we’re giving Simmons credit for 30 for 30, then we have to give him his title of patron saint of Bleacher Report, the Turner Broadcasting-owned website that got its start (and notoriety) as a content factory that housed many unpaid sports bloggers, a large number of whom were undoubtedly influenced by Simmons’s informal stylings and career success. B/R hired Howard Beck away from The New York Times in 2013, and it’s almost certainly ready to throw dollars at another big name in sports commentary.
3. Yahoo Sports
We love Ball Don’t Lie. In fact, it’s one of the few sports blogs that remain utterly indispensable, and on the face of it, Simmons doesn’t seem to fit there (or with any of Yahoos other sports blogs — we just happen to pair Simmons with the NBA first and foremost). But if the news media giant and search engine company is looking for a way to make a mark on the industry that’s uniquely theirs, it’s hard to imagine a move that would do more for that than hiring the man behind the B.S. Report.