Bill Simmons: Valuing Trades More Than Friendships

Shelterdog

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However to expand on this, a super majority of people KNOW they cannot hit a baseball thrown at 90 miles an hour, but social media has made like half the country THINK they are journalists/writers. That doesn't make the actual writers any less talented, but makes corporate management think their staff is quite replaceable.
Staff is quite replaceable. Not all staff--for whatever his flaws Simmons does connect to a broad market and generate a ton of loyalty for example--but most of the writers on the ringer are extremely replaceable. Labor markets are fairly tight and full of young people who want to bullshit about sports or pop culture on the web.

SoSH is quite a good board but I think a very high percentage of the people on this board--perhaps half of active posters--could match Ringer content, particularly with editors, etc. (the quality of some of the non-SoSH football writings of some of our members is a testament to that!).
 

Pedro's Complaint

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Jul 31, 2005
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I'm not sure I understand why The Ringer as a website continues to exist. Is it prestige, loyalty, ego--some combination of these things, something else altogether? What I've read suggests that The Ringer's revenue is disproportionately generated by the podcast network, and the sale to Spotify seems to confirm this. If the new content providers on the podcast side are increasingly non-union, contracted celebrities, then the idea that the website exists as a farm team--so to speak--for the podcast network no longer appears to be relevant.
 

Kliq

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Mar 31, 2013
13,256
I'm not sure I understand why The Ringer as a website continues to exist. Is it prestige, loyalty, ego--some combination of these things, something else altogether? What I've read suggests that The Ringer's revenue is disproportionately generated by the podcast network, and the sale to Spotify seems to confirm this. If the new content providers on the podcast side are increasingly non-union, contracted celebrities, then the idea that the website exists as a farm team--so to speak--for the podcast network no longer appears to be relevant.
The Ringer doesn't have to exist really at all. When Simmons became a free agent, he could have easily saddled up with any number of legacy media companies, or up-and-coming media brands, and run his podcast, had all of his guests, and work on additional side projects like documentaries and whatnot. Instead Simmons basically created Grantland 2.0, and used his name and his brand to give a lot of young people the chance to write about sports and pop culture for a living. For all the shit Bill is currently taking in this thread, he does deserve some credit for establishing an outlet for younger writers when he really didn't have to.

I don't want to get to far into this, but the way I see this story unfolding is that the writing staff of The Ringer knows that they are expendable, because at the end of the day it is podcasting that is driving the revenue train for The Ringer and keeping the lights on. As the The Ringer podcasting network has grown larger and more lucrative, Simmons has elected to spend that money on bringing in expensive outsiders that can drive new listeners to the network, at the expense of the younger writing staff who are eager to transfer over to podcasts, because there is new future in print but there is a bright one (potentially) in podcasting. I think they are marketing this as a "union busting" move when in reality it is Simmons looking to invest back into The Ringer podcasting network by splashing cash at celebrities and former players. Does moving further away from union employees a benefit for Simmons/Ringer management? Sure, but as an outsider looking at the situation, it seems perfectly defensible for Simmons to want to go after established names with ready-made-platforms; regardless of union implications.

The writing staff at The Ringer are scared, and they should be because print media is a brutal industry with almost no future and the organizations don't care about you. They know that they are expendable, so it makes sense for them to try and position themselves in this way. The NY Times is also only a few months removed from a total hit piece on Simmons with the "open mic night" comment that was reportedly taken badly out of context.
 

ManicCompression

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May 14, 2015
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I'm not typically a union-basher - I'm in a union myself - but The Ringer union's requests seem more like they want all of the fruits of success without actually doing any of the work to get there. That's what's somewhat off-putting by their tenor.

Kevin O'Connor was nothing before The Ringer - I think he had really only written for Bleacher Report or one of those other publications that don't even pay writers. He's now a host of a popular bi-weekly podcast and a consistent guest on Russillo and Simmons' podcast. He has a profile in the industry. All of that happened for him because he's friggin' really good at his job. He has interesting opinions, tons of energy, optimism, and he's pretty plugged in now. Same goes for Kevin Clark, Norah Princiotti, etc.

So there's clearly nothing inherent about The Ringer preventing these employees from getting to that same level, nothing except talent, hard work, and general likeability. No employee is owed promotions and accolades because they are simply an employee, they are owed that when they excel at being an employee.

I'm all for fair wages, benefits, etc. but it seems like they already have those. The Ringer has a responsibility to pay them commensurate with other online publications in Los Angeles, not like software engineers. If you want to make more money from the Ringer, become a more valuable employee to the Ringer.
 

MarkBT

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Aug 7, 2008
135
Columbus OH
I'm not typically a union-basher - I'm in a union myself - but The Ringer union's requests seem more like they want all of the fruits of success without actually doing any of the work to get there. That's what's somewhat off-putting by their tenor.

Kevin O'Connor was nothing before The Ringer - I think he had really only written for Bleacher Report or one of those other publications that don't even pay writers. He's now a host of a popular bi-weekly podcast and a consistent guest on Russillo and Simmons' podcast. He has a profile in the industry. All of that happened for him because he's friggin' really good at his job. He has interesting opinions, tons of energy, optimism, and he's pretty plugged in now. Same goes for Kevin Clark, Norah Princiotti, etc.
I don't disagree (i.e. KOC), but he was also the beneficiary of Simmons' enthusiasm and support early on. KOC was frequently on Simmons' podcast, his articles were RT'd, and was clearly given favorable treatment because he was a kid from Framingham who loved the Celtics. If I were another young writer at the Ringer, that probably would have annoyed me.
 

ManicCompression

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May 14, 2015
166
I don't disagree (i.e. KOC), but he was also the beneficiary of Simmons' enthusiasm and support early on. KOC was frequently on Simmons' podcast, his articles were RT'd, and was clearly given favorable treatment because he was a kid from Framingham who loved the Celtics. If I were another young writer at the Ringer, that probably would have annoyed me.
I think it's a little unfair to say that he was given favorable treatment because he's Celtic fan from Framingham - even if he did get the opportunity because of it, people obviously like listening to his opinions because he's really good at his job. If he's a sticking point, sub in Danny Chau, Jonathan Tjarks, Justin Verrier, or any of the other writers who frequently get to go on podcasts (I only really read/listen to B-ball stuff on the Ringer and am most familiar with those writers).

Contrast them with other young writers like Haley Shaughnessy and Paolo Uggetti - I'd try to listen to their podcasts and I didn't really find them insightful or entertaining. It seems like most other Ringer audience members shared my disinterest. Frankly, I don't find Chris Vernon either of those things, but KOC is worth the trade-off.

A fundamental thing that's important for writers is to find an audience. It's not something that happens by accident or sheer luck and the Ringer doesn't owe its writers a million chances to build an audience if people are tuning out.
 

Kenny F'ing Powers

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Nov 17, 2010
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I don't disagree (i.e. KOC), but he was also the beneficiary of Simmons' enthusiasm and support early on. KOC was frequently on Simmons' podcast, his articles were RT'd, and was clearly given favorable treatment because he was a kid from Framingham who loved the Celtics. If I were another young writer at the Ringer, that probably would have annoyed me.
Do you know how many people I've worked with that got the job because of some form of nepotism?

Look, I don't think its on the onus of The Ringer to elevate standards for the entire writing/blogging industry. From what (little) we know, they're paid average or above average salary. If the place has a ceiling and provides no upward mobility, they can leave. The union is saying the salary isn't industry standard, and neither are the benefits. Since "industry standard" implies common practice in the industry, it sure makes it sound like there are plenty of other options for these folks at other companies.

Which we know isn't true. Because its a super competitive industry, and also one where only the top 1% make a lot of money. A lot of the staff fell into a very lucky situation. They were hired by a small media company that was almost destined to blow up into a giant media company. Simply putting, "The Ringer" on their resumes gets them into just about any interview they want. Unfortunately, the industry sucks and the majority of jobs would both pay them less, and be less prestigious. Again, this doesn't make it The Ringers responsibility to elevate standards for the entire industry.

Its a tough situation for them. I feel for them. But it doesn't sound like there were any promises broken by The Ringer. Come work for a small company that will grow big. grow your brand. Work super hard. Get paid a fair salary. That's it. I'm unsympathetic because this is very, "Have your cake and eat it too". They won the lottery getting this job, now they expect it to provide them a high paying salary with upward mobility for the next 15 years? That wasnt ever the business model for The Ringer. Just like any other good startup, they worked their five year plan to a T.

- Hire cheap talent that will work hard to grow their own brand and The Ringers brand
- Use Simmons and his connections to bring in listeners
- Gobble up any good competing talent with startup nestegg in order to own the landscape
- Use industry dominance to be only player with enough prestige/cash to bring on popular personas
- Walk away from any talent that gets too expensive
- Cash out

I mean, its not THAT simple. But it kind of is. Everyone that works at a startup has a role. I had a boss that knew he was great early on in startups, but by the time an acquisition rolled around, his strengths were no longer needed. He navigated his career as such. A large portion of the staff was hired in step one above. Their role and niche has become less useful as the business plan has developed. For the third time, its not on The Ringer to drag these people along and give them higher pay and more benefits simply because they've been with the company for 5 years. In the sports world we all call that, "paying for past performance."

I do feel bad that these folks are in a tough spot. But this is the industry and career they picked. We all know it, and they do too. Its why they're trying to muscle what they can before it all slips away.
 
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MarkBT

lurker
Aug 7, 2008
135
Columbus OH
I think it's a little unfair to say that he was given favorable treatment because he's Celtic fan from Framingham - even if he did get the opportunity because of it, people obviously like listening to his opinions because he's really good at his job. If he's a sticking point, sub in Danny Chau, Jonathan Tjarks, Justin Verrier, or any of the other writers who frequently get to go on podcasts (I only really read/listen to B-ball stuff on the Ringer and am most familiar with those writers).

Contrast them with other young writers like Haley Shaughnessy and Paolo Uggetti - I'd try to listen to their podcasts and I didn't really find them insightful or entertaining. It seems like most other Ringer audience members shared my disinterest. Frankly, I don't find Chris Vernon either of those things, but KOC is worth the trade-off.

A fundamental thing that's important for writers is to find an audience. It's not something that happens by accident or sheer luck and the Ringer doesn't owe its writers a million chances to build an audience if people are tuning out.
Oh I totally agree - KOC is easily my favorite NBA voice at the Ringer, and clearly the company's most indispensable. Great writer and podcaster, who seems like an awesome guy and hard worker. I'm just pointing out that he was a beneficiary of Simmons' early support. I don't seem to remember many other young Ringers writers getting consistent invites on the brand's flagship podcast (Mays, Clark?), and certainly not for others among their stable of NBA writers.
 

Average Game James

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Apr 28, 2016
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At its core, it seems like the real issue for the Ringer union is the business model evolved and didn't take everybody with it. As a start-up, Simmons threw a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what would stick and this approach naturally led to a lot of opportunity for newer talent. And the website initially was pretty important, I think - speaking only for myself, but I was very much a read-only person initially and took a few years to get into podcasts. But as the podcast business took off, a couple things changed. First, the website became less and less important as content consumption shifted. And second, the risk/reward of using the podcasts as a proving ground for new people vs. bringing in established hosts or celebrities shifted as the listener base grew - it just makes way more sense now to pay to bring in a CC Sabathia or a Steve Kerr than elevate someone on staff that has a higher likelihood of flaming out. A handful of people got famous and grew valuable platforms, but many did not. It's really not all the different from a smaller tech company, except not everybody got equity, so not everyone cashed out in the sale to Spotify. Now, the Ringer union is in a spot where many of the members, particularly the staff writers, have been devalued and they have a lot less leverage that they would have a couple years ago. I'd guess Spotify values the website at something close to zero, hence Spotify's limited interest in negotiating with the union and the union's efforts to get higher profile content creators as members to increase their bargaining power. It's a tough spot in a tough industry.

As for the actual demands... what we've heard from the union about pay doesn't really demonstrate any disparity from the rest of the industry (which is, admittedly, not a very generous one away from star talent). It's 100% possible they are being paid less than industry standard, but the bulk of the comments seem to amount to "it's expensive to live in LA and I have student loans" or "other people in the same function get paid more than me." I'm entirely supportive of employees seeking fair pay and benefits, and the union could very well be making a much stronger case about salaries relative to the rest of the industry or any consistent Ringer disparities across race and/or gender in their negotiations, but the public comments don't really tell us one way or the other. I'm less sympathetic on issues of being able to take outside work (at least anything media related - seems petty to tell somebody they can't bartend) and that's not really out of step with the industry more broadly (heck, when my wife worked at Disney they made her sign what I suspect was a not entirely legal non-compete that gave the company ownership of any published or patented works for something like 3 years after she left the company). Podcast hosts as contractors? That's kinda what they are. Steve Kerr is a basketball coach that occasionally does podcasts. JJ Reddick is a basketball player that does a few podcasts. Jemelle Hill works largely outside The Ringer. I'm not really sure what the argument is against these types being contractors.

TL; DR. Union is in a tough spot - value of the non-stars is declining, as is their leverage. Entirely possible the union has a point on pay, but public comments long on anecdotes and short on actual data = hard for outsiders to really tell. Podcast hosts/occasional contributors like Kerr, JJ Reddick, and Jemelle Hill are probably contractors.
 

Marciano490

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Nov 4, 2007
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The Ringer doesn't have to exist really at all. When Simmons became a free agent, he could have easily saddled up with any number of legacy media companies, or up-and-coming media brands, and run his podcast, had all of his guests, and work on additional side projects like documentaries and whatnot. Instead Simmons basically created Grantland 2.0, and used his name and his brand to give a lot of young people the chance to write about sports and pop culture for a living. For all the shit Bill is currently taking in this thread, he does deserve some credit for establishing an outlet for younger writers when he really didn't have to.

I don't want to get to far into this, but the way I see this story unfolding is that the writing staff of The Ringer knows that they are expendable, because at the end of the day it is podcasting that is driving the revenue train for The Ringer and keeping the lights on. As the The Ringer podcasting network has grown larger and more lucrative, Simmons has elected to spend that money on bringing in expensive outsiders that can drive new listeners to the network, at the expense of the younger writing staff who are eager to transfer over to podcasts, because there is new future in print but there is a bright one (potentially) in podcasting. I think they are marketing this as a "union busting" move when in reality it is Simmons looking to invest back into The Ringer podcasting network by splashing cash at celebrities and former players. Does moving further away from union employees a benefit for Simmons/Ringer management? Sure, but as an outsider looking at the situation, it seems perfectly defensible for Simmons to want to go after established names with ready-made-platforms; regardless of union implications.

The writing staff at The Ringer are scared, and they should be because print media is a brutal industry with almost no future and the organizations don't care about you. They know that they are expendable, so it makes sense for them to try and position themselves in this way. The NY Times is also only a few months removed from a total hit piece on Simmons with the "open mic night" comment that was reportedly taken badly out of context.
Your first paragraph makes Simmons sound altruistic when really he may have just wanted more control and higher upside.
 

jose melendez

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I'd also note that the union was at the forefront of calling bullshit out when Simmons and Rusillo did their "congratulations on being a white guy who did it all by yourself" shtick.

All of that said, I've always been kind of amazed that writers unions are able to function. There seems like so much incentive for both the best writers and the most connected but not the best to kneecap them.