Before we even get started here, let me make it clear that I have no issue with Bill Simmons. He's a self-made man who did the impossible. He launched his own sports blog, built up an incredible following (pre-social media) and eventually got recruited by the biggest player in the market - ESPN. A decade later, he runs his own site (Grantland) for the network, hosts numerous popular podcasts and even has an on-air gig with NBA Countdown. That being said, he seems to have lost a step along the way - at least when it comes to his knowledge of how the online space works. Either that or he's really become a company man.
Saturday morning, Simmons took a major shot at online competitor Bleacher Report - specifically, the site's Team Stream smartphone application. He accused the publication of "stealing" his Grantland piece on LeBron James, even going to as far as to call what the site does as "diabolical". The irony here, of course, is that Bleacher Report is actually sending ESPN traffic by linking to Simmons' work - and lots of it.
">June 21, 2014
">@ramonashelburne - congrats on your excellent Bleacher Report feature today. Really enjoyed it. http://t.co/lf0mBOsXR8
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons)
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 21, 2014
">June 21, 2014
Let's start over. What is Team Stream? As mentioned above, it's a smartphone application that Bleacher Report created a few years ago to compete with the Yahoos and the ESPNs of the world. As you'd guess, it focuses on team-specific content for fans. If you're an Alabama fan, you can sign up to see content exclusively about the Crimson Tide. Pretty simple.
What sets Team Stream apart? In short, BR doesn't just link to its own content - it links to articles written by other publications as well. Given the high-priced advertising campaign the site has run, the app has millions of users. And that means that when Team Stream links to your site's work, you get serious traffic.
To be fair, yes, Bleacher Report, when linking to your content, does keep its own native frame around it, essentially locking you onto its platform. But you know which other applications do the same exact thing? Facebook. Twitter. Oh, and ESPN's SportsCenter app.
Each solution has essentially the same kind of button (Back, X, Done) that brings you back to its platform - where you originally found the content. In fact, there aren't just four ways to view the same sports content nowadays - there are hundreds.
When any of them link to you - Bleacher Report included - the destination site gets the traffic, not the one providing the platform. When BR links to ESPN, it's ESPN that sees the users, makes the money on advertisements, etc. Does Bleacher Report benefit because you're viewing it on its platform? Yes, because you might click around within the app, see some of its ads and land on some of its content as well. But that's the whole point of spending money to build a platform like that in the first place. ESPN did it too - it just doesn't frequently link to other sites on its SportsCenter app.
Perhaps Simmons understands all of this, and is instead just taking shots at BR because it has quickly become a major player in the market. Three years ago, Bleacher Report was ranked 10th in online sports traffic, according to comScore. The past few months, it has been battling Yahoo for second place, behind only ESPN. Maybe this is just a swipe at a new, unwanted competitor.
Either way, Simmons, who rose to fame on the Internet, came off looking like he no longer understands it.