ESPN President Reveals Why He Shut Down Grantland

john skipper - H 2015
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

“We lacked a full understanding of the bonding nature between Bill [Simmons] and [the staff]."

ESPN President John Skipper is speaking out for the first time since closing Grantland

Skipper talked to Vanity Fair about his decision to shutter the publication, explaining that the loss of founder and editor-in-chief Bill Simmons impacted the site's personnel and resources more than he had anticipated.

“We lacked a full understanding of the bonding nature between Bill and those guys,” Skipper said. He said he made the decision without any influence from Disney, ESPN's corporate parent.

“I loved the site,” said Skipper. “It pained me to make the decision. It was not without difficulty.” He said when he spoke with his team, "it was fairly divided internally" about whether they should shut down the site or not. Vanity Fair reports some ESPN staffers were concerned about Grantland's high cost of operation and traffic numbers. However, Skipper said in the end, the decision "was never a financial matter."

Skipper said he thinks the situation would have turned out differently had they promoted Sean Fennessey, deputy editor at the site, to editor-in-chief rather than use Chris Connelly as an interim EIC. Fennessey turned down the offer and left to join Simmons in his new ventures.

“We did make Sean Fennessey an offer to become editor-in-chief,” said Skipper. “You ask, ‘If Sean had said yes, then would we have still made the same decision about the site,’ and the answer to that has to be no. We would have kept it going. There was no way we would have made that job offer to him if we weren’t going to keep going.”

Vanity Fair reports that there is speculation Fennessey turned down the offer because he was worried about having sufficient resources and support from ESPN to maintain Grantland's strong journalistic reputation.