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Bill Simmons says ESPN blew it by not embracing tech: 'They should have had a place in Silicon Valley'

  • ESPN should have recognized itself as a technology company in order to protect itself from the loss of cable subscriptions, according to former ESPN personality Bill Simmons.
  • President John Skipper was a good boss when he was executive vice president of content, but his work declined when he took over the top job, Simmons said.
Bill Simmons
Randy Holmes | ABC | Getty Images
Bill Simmons

ESPN's problem isn't competition over content: They didn't position themselves for a future where cord cutting was a reality, according to former ESPN personality Bill Simmons.

"They didn't see a lot of this coming," said Simmons. "They didn't see cord cutting coming. They weren't ready for it. A lot of decisions were made based on subs staying at a certain level. They had to realize they were a technology company. The ones winning are now Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Hulu. ESPN should have been in that mix, but they're in Bristol. They should have had a place in Silicon Valley. That was their biggest mistake."

ESPN is far from over, Simmons points out. Though it may make less money in the future, it has such strong cable deals, he said.

"Everybody in here was paying $7 for ESPN whether they watched or not," he said.

Simmons left ESPN in May 2015 after a public breakup, and signed a deal for an HBO series called "Any Given Wednesday" shortly after. The HBO show was cancelled in November 2016. Simmons also launched a new website called The Ringer in 2016, which now has an advertising sales partnership deal with Vox Media.

Simmons had somewhat nice, yet backhanded things to say about his former boss ESPN President John Skipper.

Skipper had been executive vice president of content, but things went downhill when he replaced former ESPN president George Bodenheimer in the top job in 2011, Simmons said.

"For me, it's a leadership thing where when I was there especially from '09 to '13, ESPN was an awesome place to work, cared about content, doing quality stuff," Simmons said. "The biggest reason for that was Skipper. They worked together. George handled business stuff. Skipper took George's job, but never replaced himself."

Note: CNBC parent company NBCUniversal has an ownership stake in Hulu and has invested in Vox Media.

Watch: How to turn ESPN around