Publicly, Simmons opted for a strategy few would expect from him: silence. Leaving the Twittersphere to speculate on what had gone down, he and his team immediately got busy lining up his next act. Calls came from every corner of the media universe — Fox, Turner, Hulu, Netflix — as they did from Silicon Valley. “Guys from Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Snapchat,” says Dixon, “these first-rate technology giants were all trying to figure out how to get into the Bill Simmons business.” Some wanted to produce his next project; others simply wanted to invest in him. What he offers — a combination of cross-disciplinary skills, a fiercely loyal fan base and a proven knack for attracting top-level talent — makes him a hugely valuable commodity in the digital age. With his head still spinning, he took calls, meetings and meals. There was a dinner in Beverly Hills with Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer — who tried to recruit him to run Yahoo Sports and do Katie Couric-style interviews for her site — and a sit-down with Showtime president David Nevins and his boss, CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves.
None of the proposals was as appealing as HBO’s, however. The premium cable network would offer him not only a weekly 10 p.m. talk show but also an opportunity to create or consult on other programming for the network and its digital offshoot, HBO Now. Simmons’ podcasts could become TV shows (The Watch already has spawned a Game of Thrones aftershow); and his ferocious stream of ideas for documentaries would be heard as the network looked to regain a foothold in sports. Additionally, HBO — which, two sources say, is paying him between $7 million and $9 million a year, a nice boost from the $5 million he made at ESPN — would agree to be a minority investor in the Bill Simmons Media Group, home to a burgeoning podcast network and media site The Ringer, which launched June 1 with many of the same bylines that propelled Grantland before it was shuttered by ESPN in October.
Every month is a blank canvas