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Bill Simmons and ESPN: 5 Times When It's Time to Fire Your Biggest Star...

Many of you probably aren't aware of a guy named Bill Simmons, who got fired by ESPN last week.  Simmons is one of my role models, and if you like what you read here it's fair to say it's heavily influenced by the stylings of Simmons.  Simmons started out doing his own site with long columns about sports with tons of pop culture and movie references mixed in.  Sound familiar?

ESPN found him and brought him aboard in 2001, where he continued to write his column under the ESPN banner.  Simmons used the power of ESPN to gradually grow his own brand and leveraged his growing brand to become one of the biggest personalities at ESPN, eventually having enough juice to demand increasing amounts of money, force ESPN to underwrite a separately branded site (Grantland) and let his creative side flow with the development of things like the 30 for 30 series on ESPM.

Most people thought he was untouchable, but when ESPN made the decision to fire him/not renew his contract, it was proof that no one is untouchable when you work for someone else.  Here's my list of 5 times when you know it's time to fire your biggest star:

1. When he gradually does less of what made him so special to begin with.  Simmons is a writer.  He wrote a lot less over the last 3-4 years.  When special talent wants to branch into things that others can do almost as well as they can, that huge compensation might not look like such a great deal.

2. When he alienates your biggest customer/most important relationship, even when he's been told not to.  Simmons had a history of going after people - specifically Roger Goddell, commissioner of the NFL.  The NFL is a big customer/client - it's the biggest sport in America.  When your star thinks he's so big that he can go after the leaders of the companies you sell to or partner with, might be time to fire him.

3. When he thinks he's the brand - not your company.  Simmons also liked to talk about what was wrong at ESPN a lot.  When your star thinks his brand is better than yours and actively compares and contrasts the difference, might be time to make a change.

4. When the people who have to support him don't really like him.  For all the reasons above, the rank and file at ESPN grew to think that Simmons thought he was above them.  When your star isn't liked or respected by the people who support him - especially if he's working less - you might have to make a move.

5. When he announces publicly that your biggest customer/most important relationship is "suffering from a lack off testicular fortitude".  See #2, this is the nuclear version of that.  When your star not only alienates customers/clients, but makes derogatory statements about them on the record, your hand is being forced.  Change needed.

Most stars at Simmons' level don't believe they can fired.  The Bill Simmons firing shows us again that everyone one is replaceable.  

Comments

Steve

True stuff, indeed. And so many are blind to star's harm to he continued success of their organization - like an A#1 salesperson who treats peers dismally.
Though I believe you meant to say "The Bill Simmons firing shows us again that no one is ir-replaceable."

Joshua Westbrook

Sounds like you feel, about Bill Simmons, like I do about Colin Cowherd. Colin hasn't gone as far as Bill, but I see a lot of similarities.

Katie Raynolds

I'm similarly sad to see Bill go - his writing has influenced my own as well. That said, I agree with what you've written above; he certainly acted like he was above ESPN a few too many times!

Ian

Very well written article Kris! Good way to tie things together and make it relevant reading from an employer's perspective.

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