Why has TV sports giant ESPN invested in a booksy sport and culture website?

The list of things to make print journalists feel better about the impending demise of their medium is brief, but may include free ice cream, a generous voluntary redundancy package (yeah, right) and/or the launch of a well-funded new website featuring exclusive, long-form writing composed by a cohort of peerless hacks.

Grantland.com, which went live in June, is just such a website. It's named after Grantland Rice (1880-1954), an American sportswriter widely thought to be the greatest of his breed. From this you might reasonably deduce that Grantland is a sport website, and you'd be correct, but it's more than that. As well as giving sport its cultural, intellectual and emotional dues – unlike so much of the sport blogosphere – Grantland also places sport in the context of popular culture.

Among the site's staff are writers and editors from some of America's finest magazines. It has a clean, attractive design and its contributors include the novelist Dave Eggers and the talented essayist Chuck Klosterman; the renowned blue-sky thinker Malcolm Gladwell is credited as a consulting editor. A browse through last week's offerings yields, for example, an engaging meditation on the merits of Spotify, an analysis of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and something about Cindy Crawford and the decline of the supermodel as superstar.

What can Grantland offer to a British sport fan, given that it originates in the nation that calls sport "sports"? Grantland caters to football ("soccer") fans too – Chris Ryan writes a weekly Premier League column called The Reducer. On Sunday the site published 4,000 words on Fifa corruption by Brian Phillips, who also writes The Run of Play (runofplay.com), an appealingly highbrow football blog.

Grantland's founder and public face is 41-year-old Bill Simmons, commonly thought of as the leading US sportswriter of the internet age. He was best known previously for his blog "The Sports Guy" on the ESPN website. His personalised patter suits the web snugly: an unashamed partisan, Simmons began his writing life in Boston, where he made no bones about supporting the city's basketball team, the Celtics. Now he's based in Los Angeles, he revels in his hatred of the Lakers.

Sports writers are more familiar than most with the partisanship of the web, and Grantland is written and edited from a fan's-eye-view. The first two pieces to go live on the site were Klosterman's recollections of an obscure college basketball game that he happened to watch in 1988, and Chris Jones's piece about losing his virginity the same night the Toronto Blue Jays won their first World Series (that's baseball) in 1992. It should be said that not everyone is drinking the Grantland Kool-Aid. Despite its skilful attempts to disguise it, the site is backed financially (if not editorially) by ESPN, which is a vast cultural force in the US – and not necessarily a force for good. Its six 24-hour cable channels, 46 international networks and 750-plus radio affiliates make it the sports-broadcasting establishment. As such, any suggestion that Grantland represents the voice of an esoteric outsider needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

ESPN, for example, chose Grantland's name – against Simmons's advice, who is quoted as saying he worried it was "pretentious". The New York Times recently likened Grantland's relationship with ESPN to that of Miramax films and its parent company, Disney: "a boutique division with more room for creativity."

Grantland's greatest rival for the hearts of smart sports fans is Deadspin (deadspin.com), the sports arm of the growing Gawker empire. Gawker began as online insurgents, but has arguably matured into a pillar of the new-media establishment. Deadspin is unsparing in its scepticism where ESPN (which Deadspin writers refer to as The Borg) is concerned.

Grantland is, however, a welcome arrival. Simmons says his plans include podcasts and a quarterly print edition in association with Eggers' McSweeney's publishing house. The primary goal for the site, said its founder in his mission statement, was "to find writers we liked and let them do their thing". The writers, not to mention their readers, will be glad to hear that.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Digital Project Manager / Web Project Manager

£45-50k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced ...

Account Manager

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Manager to join ...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home