Today HBO announced that they are canceling Bill Simmons’ “Any Given Wednesday”, his first attempt at establishing himself as a reliable draw outside of the ESPN universe. I can’t say I’m surprised.
No one can ever really doubt that Simmons brought a fresh, new voice to the fray when he started writing his sports columns back in the late 90s. He was on the first wave of writers who grew up not just loving sports but pop culture in general, mixing it all together to simultaneously be entertaining and relevant to a very wide audience. Gone were the old, crotchety writers in the press box; the Internet was a new medium and he accurately foreshadowed the abrupt tonal shift towards the snarky and the irreverent that was to come.
He also fell to the same issues that a lot of guitarists and second fiddles on championship sports teams fall to, which is to say he began to see himself as something larger than the entity in which he was launched. He reasoned that on the basis of Grantland’s success, his fanbase would follow up onto whatever platform he chose. He was wrong.
That’s not to say that he’s suddenly become irrelevant or he won’t have a second act in his career. He’ll simply have to go to where the people are, and not expect the people to come to him. First, that’s just not the way it works anymore, which is why you’ll increasingly see celebrities and other large brands get involved with Facebook Live, Snapchat, and other areas where the community is congregating. Second, an individual creator like Bill Simmons is unlikely to ever create the same kind of brand strength that the platform itself can generate; ultimately they’re not loyal to you, they’re loyal to the platform that supported you and will be around before and after your popularity peaks.
As for ESPN? They may have a host of other issues to struggle with as people cut their cords (although their OTT offerings are exceptional) but they’ll rock solid in one regard: there are easily millions of people around the world who want to be and in fact think they’re the next Bill Simmons. One will emerge, and the cycle will happen all over again.