To focus on expanding creative storytelling beyond traditional content areas, ESPN is forming Exit 31, a creative enterprise that will combine the resources of three existing units – ESPN Films, Grantland and FiveThirtyEight – under one umbrella. The group – whose name refers to the exit off Interstate 84 which leads to ESPN’s Bristol headquarters – will experiment with subjects, formats, editorial approaches and platforms to create offerings that complement ESPN’s already expansive storytelling in new and different ways.
Well-versed in multiplatform storytelling and analysis, the groups will continue to expand into content beyond sports when appropriate. Exit 31 will also facilitate organic collaborations across ESPN and will be led by Marie Donoghue, senior vice president, global strategy, business development and business affairs. Reporting to Marie in this endeavor will be three of her existing reports Nate Silver (Editor in Chief, FiveThirtyEight), Connor Schell (Vice President, ESPN Films and Original Entertainment) and David Cho (Senior Director, Strategy and Business Development, Grantland and FiveThirtyEight) and new report Bill Simmons (Editor in Chief, Grantland).
Said Donoghue, “Storytelling is at the core of everything ESPN does, across divisions. Formally combining these teams will create a collaborative studio environment whose mission will be to take risks and experiment with editorial approach, visual presentation and programming across platforms. We hope to continue to bring a variety of creative people into ESPN from varied sources – including non-traditional sports media sources – to cross-pollinate within Exit 31 and across ESPN’s existing and award-winning content divisions.”
Initial projects under Exit 31 include;
- FiveThirtyEight Films, a collaboration between FiveThirtyEight and ESPN Films that will be a storytelling vehicle to create short and long-form films drawing from the work of FiveThirtyEight and using data analytics as a part of its ethos
- Grantland’s in-progress, exclusive series chronicling Steve Nash’s return to the Lakers called The Finish Line
- ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 Soccer Stories
- The recently announced documentary series following the US Men’s Soccer Team leading into the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil called “Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil”
- Ongoing 30 for 30 Shorts
- A new Grantland Video Podcast Network
The newly expanded FiveThirtyEight – launching on March 17 – will maintain the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of the original site Nate Silver founded in 2008, while extending its coverage to diverse areas such as sports, politics, economics, science, and life. The site will highlight a team of talented new voices to deliver storytelling that is both data-driven and editorially compelling. The site will focus on data visualizations as a key way to use information to tell stories.
Created in March 2008, ESPN Films and Original Content produces films showcasing some of the most compelling stories in sports. In 2009, the group launched the Peabody Award-winning and Producer’s Guild Award-winning 30 for 30 film series, comprised of thoughtful reflections on the past three decades told through the lens of diverse and interesting sports fans and social commentators. The strong reaction from both critics and fans led to the launch of 30 for 30 Volume II, which is currently underway. Additional projects from ESPN Films and Original Content include the critically acclaimed Nine for IX series, SEC Storied, the webby award-winning 30 for 30 Shorts and ESPN’s annual ESPY awards.
Since its launch in 2011 by Bill Simmons and ESPN, Grantland has focused on developing entertaining and original content from both established and award winning writers like Malcolm Gladwell, Chuck Klosterman, and Wesley Morris, putting them alongside up-and-coming contributors like Bill Barnwell, Zach Lowe, and Katie Baker. Not limited to just creating short and long-form written work, Grantland has also launched two podcast networks to join the already popular BS Report with Bill Simmons, all three of which have topped their respective iTunes categories, as well as the award-winning Grantland Channel which includes the popular “Bill and Jalen” NBA series and “Grantland Live: March Madness.” The channel was created in partnership with YouTube and has generated more than 47 million views.