Sidebar: This post is quite critical of The Sports Guy. However, I read Simmons's columns religiously from 2005 to about 2015 or so. He's undoubtedly one of the most influential sportswriters of the last two decades. Furthermore, the 30 for 30 series was a phenomenal accomplishment, and despite his endless Celtics homerism Simmons stands as a legitimate NBA historian. While everyone has one now, podcasts were not always an obvious choice - the early episodes of "Eye Of The Sports Guy" could be a tough hang - yet Simmons recognized the format's potential as a compelling alternative to sports radio. Simmons's defining ESPN project, Grantland, was awesome, both in terms of content and the careers it helped launch, and more recently The Ringer has begun to carve its own niche too. While his shtick has perhaps grown stale, Bill Simmons has still had an amazing career.
First, here are all the guests to appear at least 3 times over the pod's 275+ episode run. Joe House leads the pack, reflecting a large role in the early post-Grantland pods, as well as his continued presence for discussions on the NBA, D.C., and America's culinary specialties. Proud gambling degenerate Cousin Sal is close behind, then there's a big gap until NFL commentator Mike Lombardi, resident Yankee fan (and Republican) JackO, plus many other familiar Simmons collaborators.
While it's no surprise to anyone who follows Simmons that buddies like House and JackO are frequently heard from, it is a little surprising how few women have appeared...
Out of 432 guest appearances across the 275 episodes tracked, only 18 (4.17%) were made by women. Nine women total have appeared compared to 135 men. Mallory Rubin has been on six times, Juliet Litman four, Sarah Tiana twice, then a single spot for each of Sally Jenkins, Abby Wambach, Charlize Theron, Diana Taurasi, Katie Baker, and Katie Nolan. Mike Lombardi has made more appearances than this entire list combined.
So why does Simmons have so few women on the pod? One reason would be that this is a sports podcast featuring athlete interviews, and the majority of famous athletes in America are men. However, loyal listeners know that Simmons doesn't actually talk to that many current players or coaches (the many Kevin Durant appearances aside).
What does Simmons talk about? Well, looking at the words most frequently appearing together in episode descriptions, it appears Simmons is pretty locked onto the NFL and NBA:
This makes sense from both the perspective of Simmons's personal interests (Celtics! Patriots!), along with the goal of maximizing podcast downloads: the NFL is America's most popular sport, and the NBA appeals to a younger crowd more likely to be into pods.
The download angle is worth considering. It's well-established that The Ringer mainly monetizes from podcast ad revenue. It would be interesting then to know if Simmons has found that episodes with female headliners (e.g. Abby Wambach, Diana Taurasi, Charlize Theron) perform worse. This would be disappointing, but would at least provide an economic basis for how Simmons chooses his guests.
I would guess there are a couple of reasons for Simmons's guest selection. First, Simmons likes talking to his old college buddies, and his old college buddies are men. Second, by talking to people he already knows pretty well, Simmons reduces prep time for podcasts (allowing more episodes per week) while also generating stable download numbers due to listener familiarity.
Still, for someone who has been fine featuring obscure male guests (Jason Stein anyone?), it would be nice to see a bit more diversity in the roster.