The Best New Voice in Sports & Pop Culture

The Ringer is a successful digital content media company based in LA, California. Launched in June 2016, it is the new digital venture of famed sports journalist, Bill Simmons. After officially parting ways with ESPN in September 2015, Bill teamed up with HBO to build a new sports and pop culture platform catered to the once rising audience of Grantland,

Grantland was the brain child of Bill Simmons while he was working for ESPN, the mega sports journalism company. He served as Editor-in-Chief at Grantland for 5 years and led a team of great young writers that touched the pulse of sports and pop culture. This isn’t surprising, as Bill Simmons is known to be just as much of a movie and show biz buff as he is a crazy hometown Boston sports fan.

However, despite the sites obvious early success, ESPN showed little commitment to growing Grantland’s brand and online presence. In those last few years, Bill became publicly vocal about his disdain regarding ESPN’s approach. Little did he know, it was a test run for what was to come next.

The Ringer delivers online content to a core audience in the 18-45 age range and caters to a wide ranging audience. From sports fans to tv / movie entertainment junkies. They even pivoted their strategy this summer (2016) by creating content surrounding the US election race, which Bill has mentioned was something they didn’t originally plan for but rode the wave as their readers thirst for more was obvious.

Bill Simmons worked closely with Evan Williams (Twitter co-founder) to help build a modern website using Evan’s new creation Medium, an online publishing platform. One of the interesting things about The Ringers site is the way that they continuously change their main headings at the top of the page. Personally, I feel that this is a subtle yet effective tactic to help refresh the feel of the site every couple of months as new trends pop up, new sports leagues begin and new TV / movies are released.

For example, their main menu headings (and news stories) during the summer were categorized as; MLB, TV, TECH, ELECTION. However, their current main menu headings (and news stories) are categorized as; NBA, NFL, ROGUE ONE, TV, TECH, PODCASTS.

One of their primary engagement campaigns before launching the site in June, 2016 was a 10 week period of email newsletters. I was an avid reader of Grantland, so naturally I signed up for the newsletter and became intrigued with the concept of the new site. During the 10 week lead up to the launch, they continued to build their Twitter and Facebook following. As of today they have 276K and 78K followers respectively.

As mentioned earlier, they are a relatively new company but, they seem to have harnessed the power of live video from day one. They continue to experiment with Periscope (Twitters live video streaming app) and Facebook Live (facebook’s live video streaming app). For example, in May 2016, just a month before their official site launch, they did their first experiment with Periscope by huddling some of their team together in their retro fit office in downtown LA, to follow and discuss via live video, the NBA Lottery Draft (professional basketball teams do a lottery to determine who gets to pick first overall). This seemed to be a test run for what was to come, as a core team at The Ringer, aka ‘Keepin it 1600’ podcast team, eventually used Periscope to discuss their thoughts on the US presidential race throughout the summer and fall.

Speaking of podcasts, during Bill Simmons stint with ESPN, he had a very successful podcast called The BS Report. Just as Grantland seemed to be a stepping stone for The Ringer, Bill’s success with The BS Report helped pave the way for a brand new and very ambitious venture into the world of podcasting. At the same time of The Ringer website launch, Bill began building the Ringer Podcast Network. According to the latest US podcast rankings on http://www.itunescharts.net/us/charts/podcasts/2016/12/16, Keepin’ it 1600 is their most popular podcast (this could be a product of timing, as the US election recently finished), followed by the Bill Simmons podcast. However, they seem to have a channel that complements each of their main blogging categories (e.g. sports, TV, politics etc.).

Another part of their social media engagement strategy seems to be their (fun) use of gifs and short videos on their Twitter feed. In addition to a great team of young writers, they have access to great visual designers who help create a unique brand of entertainment. This too is not surprising, as Bill Simmons also played a key role in the production of a widely successful documentary series for ESPN called 30 for 30. His influence is on display yet again, as his love for original and entertaining video content is obvious in their early branding strategy.

Overall, I feel that The Ringer has done a great job at harnessing the power of social media as well as new technology like live video streaming. They seem to have found a way to seamlessly integrate them into their overall online engagement strategy. Looking ahead, Bill Simmons should not have the same issues as he did with ESPN. They are backed by HBO who are encouraging them to push the envelope and innovate in the new digital media sphere.

I look forward to continue reading and listening to their unique blend of sports and pop culture content. Heck, if we’re lucky, Bill Simmons will get back into producing short documentaries.

I’m crossing my fingers.

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One thought on “The Best New Voice in Sports & Pop Culture

  1. As always, Jeff, you offer insights into cool new social media threads. Thanks – I had never heard of Bill Simmons or any of of his projects, ESPN history or books. His experiments in social media and his incredible launch campaign numbers make him someone worth watching and emulating.

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