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‘Bleacher Report’ founder speaks on success

| Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dave Finocchio, founder and general manager of the sports website Bleacher Report and Notre Dame graduate of the class of 2005, returned to campus Thursday to deliver a lecture in which he traced the brief history of the company and explained how his Arts and Letters education contributed to his success as an entrepreneur.

Finocchio majored in history and economics — the same departments that sponsored the event — and spoke in the McKenna Hall auditorium in a lecture titled “From Alumni Hall to the World’s Biggest Sports Website.”

While he was still a student at Notre Dame, Finocchio said he did not know what he wanted to do for a living, but his education inspired him to chase his passions.

“As I went through my college, like I’m sure a lot of you are going through right now, I actually had no idea what the hell I wanted to do with the rest of my life, including my profession,” he said. “A lot of my friends, especially here, seemed to have a much more grounded sense of what they wanted to do.

“In the context of studying history, I think [my education] just gave me a broader context on what my place on earth was, how fleeting it was and how most people who made an impact throughout history took chances and took risks. I just started to feel strongly that I didn’t want to go down the same path as everyone else. I wanted to go off on my own and kind of create my own path. … It all just helped to shape my perspective and push me toward trying to do something that I was actually really passionate about.”

After graduating from Notre Dame, Finocchio said he took a job with a private equity firm in Chicago and worked between 60 and 80 hours a week, but used his spare time to launch Bleacher Report. He said he was motivated by a belief that sports fans “deserve to read something insightful, something that makes them really think about their team, something that’s entertaining.”

“The idea was that we would go and source writers all over the country who were actually honest-to-God experts about maybe the top three to four hundred teams across all professional sports in the U.S. and then some collegiate sports,” he said.

“We had absolutely no idea what the hell we were doing. None whatsoever. This was just an idea, and we really had to do things step by step.”

Finocchio said he noticed most sports media outlets catered to an older audience, so he wanted Bleacher Report to tailor its content to fans in their mid-20s.

“I thought a lot of the sports websites that were out there were really speaking to my dad’s demographic [more] than they were to mine,” he said. “Even if you turn on some of the broadcasts today, at times I feel like it’s my grandfather talking about sports. It’s not how I would be talking about them with my buddies in a bar.”

Through its data-driven approach to user analysis, Finocchio said he and his team were able to generate a large enough audience to attract investors and advertisers. Turner Sports then acquired Bleacher Report in Aug. 2012 for a reported $175 million.

“Today we are the second-largest sports site in the United States. We are both a publisher of content, but we also aggregate other content,” he said. “That’s kind of part of our secret sauce — we create our own original content but we’re also really, really good at curating other peoples’ content. We’ll link to ESPN; we’ll link to ND Nation; we’ll link to anyone who has good content.”

Finocchio also highlighted Bleacher Report’s mobile app, Team Stream, which is the most widely used sports app with more than 10 million global downloads, and the website’s expansion to include offices in New York and London in addition to its headquarters in San Francisco.

He concluded with advice for the mostly-student audience to pursue their interests rather than settle for a steady job after graduation.

“You spend so much time trying to get through high school and trying to get into Notre Dame, it’s worth the time to try to figure out what job would probably make you happy or what job would help you actually feel good that you’re chasing some of the passions in your life,” Finocchio said.

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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