We are living in a time when gatekeepers are increasingly losing control, and importance. With platforms like Kickstarter, Medium, Twitter, Gumroad, Instagram, and Facebook it has never been easier for an individual to build an audience, and communicate directly with that audience. A musician can fund an album on Kickstarter, write about the process on Medium, share updates on Twitter, share images of the process on Instagram, sell the album directly to fans using Gumroad, and allow fans to share your work with their friends on Facebook. The scenario I just laid out is not common today, but it is possible, we could not have said that even five years ago. We are in the early innings, but the game is changing.
When ESPN foolishly suspended Bill Simmons, the Editor-in-Chief of Grantland, for speaking out against Roger Goodell, and the NFL, the web was naturally quick to react. Many felt that this provided Simmons the perfect opportunity to seriously consider leaving ESPN, the company that has made him a star, to venture out on his own. A decade ago it would have been crazy to think someone would leave the most powerful, and accessible platform in their industry, but today the rules have changed, and there are new possibilities for talented individuals.
Simmons has almost three million Twitter followers, close to sixty-five thousand Instagram followers, and over half a million Facebook followers. These are not people who are following ESPN or Grantland, rather these are people who specifically care about what Bill Simmons has to say. In an environment that is hungry for good content, Simmons could easily get financing to build out a new media company, one that fits his vision, and it is clear that his loyal fans would follow. Sure, like any entrepreneur, Simmons would be giving up his relatively secure, and extremely lucrative deal at ESPN to build something from scratch, but if he was ever going to do it, it seems now would be the time. He has had three weeks away from ESPN to contemplate if it is really the best place for him to be anymore.
The new technology platforms that allow creators to communicate directly with their fans, have empowered creators in a way that was never possible before. Employers need to be aware of this shift in the dynamics of the relationship. Creators with large, passionate followings have more freedom, and flexibility today, thus have more leverage when making demands. The threat of walking, and going to do something on your own now carries a lot more weight. The personal brand is more important today, because it has the ability to scale, and really make an impact.
I hope Simmons leaves to start his own venture, and I hope he is successful. He did the right thing by speaking out against Roger Goodell, and the NFL. He now has the ability to build an organization where people can feel free to speak out against hypocrisy, without having to fear the repercussions from higher up. All eyes will be on Simmons as he heads into a contract year. I personally hope he says goodbye to ESPN, and changes the game.