The Ringer—Bill Simmons’s self-described “content media site”—launched this morning, and immediately felt familiar. It looked like all the other digital media sites built on Medium, splashed with The Ringer’s inimitable and garish electric green color scheme, and was mostly seeded with the stories The Ringer has been sending out via its newsletter for the last 10 weeks.
With The Ringer functional and confirmed to be what we thought it would be—Grantland with less sports coverage and more Game of Thrones and technology coverage—there is one big open question left: Who the fuck is funding this thing?
The site’s masthead currently lists 43 staffers (for reference, that’s a bit below the 50-60 staffers Grantland had at its peak, and about triple Deadspin’s size), several of whom were hired months before The Ringer launched, hired away from well-paying media jobs at shops like Grantland, the NFL Network, Sports Illustrated, GQ, the Wall Street Journal, and more. Add in the costs of legal, advertising, and other support staffers, health insurance, 401(k) plans, fringe benefits, a marketing firm, a motel-looking office, podcasting and computer equipment, and a million other things you need to launch a website, and The Ringer certainly looks to have cost millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars.
The Ringer has built its site on top of Medium’s platform, as have a number of other smaller (at least in terms of staff size) digital media publishers. Medium’s selling point is that it provides an easy, attractive platform and the necessary technical support to publishers for free, reducing the amount of money needed to pay coders, designers, and technical staffers. In exchange, Medium will broker sponsored posts with advertisers and take a cut of the proceeds.
This morning, the Washington Post reported that HBO had invested in The Ringer, this investment including an option to purchase The Ringer-created scripted and non-scripted programming. HBO PR declined to comment and The Ringer PR didn’t respond, but two sources close to HBO and The Ringer confirmed the Post’s reporting, with one adding that HBO’s investment was in The Ringer specifically, and not the Bill Simmons Media Group more generally.
HBO announced a television show and production deal with Simmons last July, but made no mention of a website or funding it. This might have been because, though banished from ESPN, Simmons was still under contract at the time. In October he formed the Bill Simmons Media Group—hiring the NFL Network’s Eric Weinberger to be its president the next month—and began hiring staffers for what would become The Ringer.
But even with the knowledge that HBO has invested in The Ringer, there are still a number of open questions. Is HBO the only investor? How much is HBO investing? Does HBO’s investment come with an equity stake, and if so, how big? Are SeatGeek, Stamps.com, MeUndies, or any of Simmons’s other regular podcast sponsors providing funding? Does The Ringer have the same deal everybody else has with Medium, or did Medium pay a premium to bring aboard the prestige surrounding The Ringer? Have any of Simmons’s Hollywood or Silicon Valley friends invested? How many employees does the Bill Simmons Media Group, separate from The Ringer, have, and what else will it do besides publish The Ringer?
HBO, Simmons, The Ringer, and Weinberger all declined to comment or ignored my entreaties, so I emailed everybody I could think of that might possibly invest in the Bill Simmons Media Group or The Ringer, and asked if they had. Here were my results:
Did Not Invest
- Chris Sacca: Billionaire; Twitter, Uber, and Instagram investor; Shark Tank shark; The Bill Simmons Podcast guest
- Mark Cuban: Dallas Mavericks owner; Shark Tank shark; Aspiring vice-president
- Ted Leonsis: Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals owner; CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment; Vox Media investor
- Jason Calacanis: Co-founder of Weblogs, Inc.; Owner of first-ever produced Tesla; Serial investor
- Dan Rosensweig: CEO of Chegg; Vox Media and Ozy Media investor
- Michael and Kass Lazerow: VCs; Mashable and Buzzfeed investors
- Hearst Ventures: VC firm; BuzzFeed investor
- Time Warner Investments: VC firm; Bustle, FanDuel, and Mashable investor
- Bob Pittman: iHeartMedia CEO; Former MTV president; Whistle Sports and Huffington Post investor
- Axel Springer: German media conglomerate; Bild and Business Insider owner; Thrillist, Mic, and Ozy Media investor
Declined To Comment
- NBC Universal: Buzzfeed, Vox Media, POPSUGAR investor
Did Not Respond
- Ev Williams: Twitter co-founder; Medium founder; Bill Simmons partner
- Marc Andreessen: Twitter pundit; Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz co-founder; reddit, PandoDaily, Business Insider, and Slack investor
- Peter Thiel: Billionaire; PayPal and Palantir co-founder; first outside Facebook investor; holder of strong opinions about media
- Andrew Braccia/Accel: VC firm; Slack, Vox Media, Hudl investor
- Henry Blodget: Business Insider co-founder; Atlas Obscura investor; disgraced stock trader
- Ken Lerer: Huffington Post co-founder; Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and Business Insider investor; New York Mets minority owner
- General Atlantic: VC firm; Vox Media, BuzzFeed, Snapchat, Axel Springer, and Airbnb investor
- Jeff Weiner: Linkedin CEO; Vox Media, Slack, and Change.org investor
- Ron Conway/SV Angel: VC; Reddit, Medium, Ozy Media, and Pinterest investor
- Advancit Capital: VC firm; Mic investor
If you know more about The Ringer or Bill Simmons Media Group’s funding, please get in touch.
Updated to note that Axel Springer confirmed after publication that they aren’t funding BSMG or The Ringer.