Arts and Letters Alumnus Combines Storytelling and Sports

January 14, 2013 • Mary Kate Malone

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Notre Dame College of Arts and Letters alumnus David Finocchio ’05, founder of BleacherReport.com

As a history and economics major at Notre Dame, David Finocchio ’05 wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, but he felt certain it would not involve sitting at a desk and crunching numbers.

“The one rule I hung on to in my own head was that I wanted to do something I was truly passionate about—that was kind of my guiding force,” he says. “It was the lens through which I saw the world.”

As his friends set off for careers in accounting, medicine, and law, Finocchio pursued a gutsier goal: creating a website all about sports.

Taking His Shot

The idea for the site came to Finocchio during his senior year, when he noticed that mainstream sports websites didn’t offer the volume of content he wanted about his favorite teams, such as Notre Dame football or the San Francisco Giants.

He craved a website full of stories about every sports team imaginable, written by fans themselves—and decided to make it himself. “I’ve always been passionate about sports and media, and I saw an opportunity,” he says.

Finocchio named the website bleacherreport.com, and in the seven years since its launch, it has become the third most-visited sports website in the country—behind only ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports, Finocchio says.

Last summer, Finocchio and the site’s two other founders sold the company to Turner Sports for $200 million.

Light Bulb Moment

Finocchio’s decision to take a shot at his big dream can be traced to an economics class he took his senior year in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters.

The class studied the idea of utility, he says, and the students wrestled with difficult questions such as the satisfaction a person can gain from purchasing an expensive car versus performing community service.

“That course was definitely a big light bulb moment for me and something that helped me commit to making sure that I was doing something I truly cared about,” he says.

Finocchio took a job in private equity in Chicago after graduation and worked on the website at night and on weekends. After two years, he had saved enough money to quit his job and devote himself full-time to Bleacher Report.

He then packed up his belongings and moved to Silicon Valley with the site’s two other founders, Bryan Goldberg and Dave Nemetz. In a 300-square-foot, un-air-conditioned office, they worked seven days a week on their fledgling website.

“We had a little bit of the fear of God in us for sure,” Finocchio says.

The Power of Ideas

With little start-up experience, Finocchio relied on his Notre Dame liberal arts education not only to tell compelling sports stories but also to think critically and carefully about the problems his team faced as young entrepreneurs—from presenting their story to potential investors to developing a staff to crafting the website design.

“A liberal arts education trains you how to think, how to attack problems,” he says. “It’s a helpful skill set to develop because it trains your mind.”

Finocchio works as chief content and product officer at Bleacher Report and is also a vice president at Turner Sports. He oversees the non-business side of the company, managing all the content that appears on the website and its mobile properties, as well as the overall website experience.

“You have to package content differently online,” Finocchio says. “We use a lot of rich media—video, images, charts—to make the content more compelling.”

A Success Story

Today, Bleacher Report employs about 600 freelancers around the country who work remotely as writers or copy editors. They produce stories on nearly every sport, from NASCAR to rugby to fishing and poker. The site also employs about 150 full-time staff members who manage the writers and help develop the website.

Every day, Finocchio says, he still uses the storytelling skills he honed in history classes at Notre Dame.

“I loved history because it’s the story of the world,” he says. “And at the end of the day, I tell stories to readers and viewers to make our content as compelling as possible.”

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