Bleacher Report has been working for years to get to this moment, turning the natural connections afforded by founder, CEO and Notre Dame graduate Dave Finocchio into something more tangible with his alma mater.
That happened Thursday with the announcement Bleacher Report would partner with Notre Dame this season to produce exclusive content. Powered by a team of four producers already imbedded with the program, the media company plans to produce a weekly “Tunnel Vision” show that will run Thursdays or Friday. It will also churn out more short-form content of practice highlights or semi-improvisational moments around the program.
Bleacher Report calls the partnership the next evolution in its company. What Editor-In-Chief Joe Yanarella won’t call it is straight journalism. Both Bleacher Report and Notre Dame enter this partnership with eyes wide open about the mutually beneficial mandate that comes with all this exclusive access.
Journalism or entertainment?
“I’d skew more toward entertainment,” Yanarella told Irish Illustrated. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. We are not necessarily into hard news. This is about celebration.”
The genesis for the agreement started with Finocchio building a relationship with athletics director Jack Swarbrick during the past few years, including during speaking engagements on campus. It took a turn for the interesting when Finocchio watched “A Season With Notre Dame” on Showtime last fall and Notre Dame raved about the overall experience.
Now Bleacher Report wants to turn its social media reach – its main Twitter account has more than 2.8 million followers – into something more.
For Notre Dame, access to the same recruits who use Bleacher Report to produce commitment videos – Parker Boudreaux, Daelin Hayes and C.J. Holmes all did – holds serious value. Direct access to the fan base, particular ones reading this story on their mobile device helps too.
For Bleacher Report, the hope is a success with Notre Dame will position it to expand next season on the college and professional levels. That would require a favorable review from Swarbrick, Brian Kelly and the program, which is why Bleacher Report plans to keep a low profile. Its four producers – more may be imported for bigger projects – is a fraction of the Showtime army last year. And when it comes to injuries and suspensions, don’t look for Bleacher Report to report them.
“We felt this was a real natural fit,” Yanarella said. “They were accustomed to Showtime, so this felt like a smooth transition that could benefit both companies.
“Success isn’t so much elevating their brand because we’re talking about Notre Dame, a historical brand that’s pretty damn elevated, but amplifying it.”
Yanarella said Bleacher Report is in “daily” conversations with Notre Dame about what’s fair game to show and what’s not. One example would be formations in practice, Yanarella hypothesizing a great catch by Torii Hunter Jr. would be a tight iso shot and not a wide angle that reveals the actual play.
“Not compromising Notre Dame’s success is key for us,” he said.
The Bleacher Report programming will likely debut closer to the opener at Texas, with Yanarella calling training camp an opportunity to catalogue material for later use. The Showtime series debuted after the opening week blowout of Texas last September.
Yanarella also said Bleacher Report has met with Notre Dame’s compliance staff about contact with recruits on campus, which he said will be prohibited. While Yanarella acknowledged Bleacher Report’s editorial team could have personal relationships with recruits – Holmes did a commitment video that included a Bleacher Report staffer this summer – those connections will go dead on campus.
“No contact,” Yanarella said. “We’re playing within all the necessary rules.”