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The man who co-founded Bleacher Report is leaving the sports site

One of the world’s most popular sports properties is getting a new boss.

Bleacher Report co-founder Dave Finocchio speaking onstage in front of a screen that reads, “The sport culture universe has exploded.”
Bleacher Report co-founder Dave Finocchio, who is leaving the site in June.
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for CNN
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

One of the internet’s biggest sports properties is getting a new boss.

Dave Finocchio — who co-founded Bleacher Report in 2005, sold it to Turner Sports in 2012, left and then came back to run the site in 2016 — is leaving again. He’ll be replaced by Howard Mittman, a longtime Conde Nast executive who joined the sports site as chief revenue officer in 2017.

In a memo to his staff, Finocchio says he’ll leave in June and doesn’t say what he’ll be doing next. “I view life as a collection of experiences, and though BR might very well be the most incredible journey I’ll ever go on, I want to have some others.”

Bleacher Report has become an important asset for Turner, which is now owned by AT&T, and a rare example of a digital property thriving after being acquired by an old media company. It’s probably best known today for House of Highlights, an Instagram account that shows highlights, bloopers, and other video ephemera to more than 11 million followers.

Finocchio is one of the first high-profile executives to leave the company formerly known as Time Warner after AT&T bought the company last year, though it seems Finocchio would have moved on from the company at some point, regardless of who his corporate owner is.

I talked to Finocchio a year ago on the Recode Media podcast; we talked about the history of Bleacher Report, why he had rejoined the company after leaving it, and how to build a successful sports property in a social media age. You can listen to it here; Fiocchio’s memo to his staff follows.

BR Team,

Years ago, when I was in the highest pressure-cooker era of our startup phase, I made a promise to myself that I would be doing something else by the time I turned 30. I love sports so much, and I’ve lived for the rush of figuring out how to grow BR’s audience and revenue many times over, but I’ve long known that it wasn’t the right thing for me to do this forever. I view life as a collection of experiences, and though BR might very well be the most incredible journey I’ll ever go on, I want to have some others. Also, I turn 36 later this year (shrug).

With deep appreciation for so many people who helped make BR what it is today, this is a heads up that I’ll wrap my tenure as CEO and involvement with Bleacher Report, House of Highlights and Turner Sports at the end of this June (full circle, also happens to be my birthday!).

In 2017, I recruited Howard Mittman to Bleacher Report as CRO/CMO, but also hoping he would emerge as a potential successor. BR has become one of the most important and premium media companies in our space, and I believe it needs a leader who can continue to take the brand and everything we do for consumers and business partners to the next level. You’ll hear more from both Matt Hong and Howard soon, but I want you to know that I’m very comfortable BR is in great hands.

Warning! We’re now moving on to the long-winded portion of the email!

In early 2016, I came back to oversee Turner’s incremental 100M investment into BR. Phase 1 of my Bleacher Report experience (2005-2014) was all kinds of insane and miserable and wonderful, but I think most importantly, the relationships I developed over that decade are ones I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. The gist though, is that over those first ten years, we made a bunch of mistakes and broke a bunch of rules and innovated like crazy, and thru collective belief and sheer will-power, we got BR over the hump as a real business and a real brand that had enough juice to be around for a long time.

In 2015, there was a confluence of tough circumstances, industry trends and other, that put BR in a place where we either had to shake things up significantly, or face a reality where the brand would be a lot less relevant in the future. I knew coming back that we would accomplish a lot of exciting and rewarding things, but I probably underestimated the extent to which extremely difficult and personally painful decisions needed to be made to best position the business and brand for long-term success. Three years later, I think we’re on the other side of most of the tough stuff, and now have very strong exec leaders sitting on top of all of our departments. The last big item on my to do list is to hire and successfully onboard a Chief Content Officer, which will happen in the very near future.

We’ve transformed and scaled BR’s revenue incredibly in a challenging climate for most digital ad companies, but I’m even more proud and appreciative of how much we’ve grown BR’s brand. Honestly, I’m just super grateful that I got be a part of Bleacher Report when it became a legitimate household name and a mostly beloved brand by a generation who cares a lot about sports and its impact on culture. All of you worked together to play a part in that, and it was my great pleasure to have a chance to lead so many talented, creative and hard-working people. When I was a 21 year old kid, this was my crazy hope and a dream. And over the past three years, in many ways, it came true. I can’t thank you all enough for that.

In that vein, though I tend to be the beneficiary of this dynamic, I think it’s often bs that a relatively small group of people end up getting the credit for something that had many, many absolutely integral contributors. I want to thank literally hundreds of individual people for going above and beyond to make BR happen (and I probably should over the next few months!), but that’s a bit absurd for this email. I do want to give a special thanks and recognition to a handful of people who I can assure you we wouldn’t be here without.

My co-founder Dave Nemetz pushed the founding team to believe that BR could be a really big company, and in many ways turned this into high-stakes game where we all gave everything we had. My co-founder Bryan Goldberg who is so creative strategically and served as my foil when we cracked difficult problems that influenced how an era of digital media played out. Brian Grey will always be BR’s most important CEO, and worked tirelessly to professionalize the organization and put me in positions to create maximum value for the biz. Rory Brown and Joe Yanarella I get choked up thinking about these guys and I’m eternally grateful to each of them. It’s hard for me to articulate how well the three of our skill sets fit together in the key years and how much I think this partnership was the difference between BR being a moderate hit vs. what it became. The best team I’ll ever be apart of, thank you both. Bennett Spector, the voice of BR more than any other and still going strong. Every game-changing product I launched: newsletters, app, social channels. He was always the guy. Matt Hong deserves a HUGE amount of the credit for why BR has been such a success story inside Turner Broadcasting. I can’t hold someone in much higher regard. David Levy believed in what BR had a chance to become and went to the mat at Time Warner to acquire us. His support of BR has been unwavering, even in challenging circumstances.

And lastly, thank you to Lenny Daniels and the entire Turner Sports organization who have consistently supported BR and allowed us the leeway to maintain our culture and fighting spirit at all costs. If I ever pushed too hard for disruption, it was out of love :)!

I want to leave you with one anecdote. On 4th of July 2005, I came to an internal resolution that I was going to wake up the next morning and get to work on this sports media idea I’d been thinking about for the previous 5-6 months. But I woke up feeling VERY unsure of myself, and subconsciously I think I went searching for external validation that wouldn’t make fun of me. Next thing I know, I’m sitting with my ex-girlfriend’s mom in her office, who is just one of the most sincere, wonderful, totally non-judgmental people I’ve ever known.

I told her about what I was planning to do, and she looked me in the eye and said “Dave, I think it’s terrific, and I have a feeling you’re going to be very successful doing this”. The way she looked at me when she said it, I could tell that she actually believed that. And it really surprised me. For some reason, because she believed it, I started believing it too. Throughout all of the hard moments over the years (there were many), I always went back to that moment; it became the center of my conviction, my confidence, and since I’ve just always believed deep down that BR was going to make it. That conversation meant THE WORLD to me.

I wish you are all so lucky to have a chance to pursue your dreams, whether you’re pursuing them now or sometime in the future. And I hope that you have the good fortune of receiving the same kind of incredible support that I did. If not, maybe you can give it to someone else.

This has been the experience of a hundred lifetimes. Thank you so much, sincerely.


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