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Mike Florio Became an NFL Media Institution from a ‘Seinfeld’-Level Pitch

  • Florio created ProFootballTalk in 2001, struck a deal with NBC in 2009, and his blog went from hobby to a go-to NFL news site.
  • “I did this whole thing that was shades of George Costanza when he and Jerry were in with NBC for their pitch,” Florio told Front Office Sports.
Mike Florio
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

ProFootballTalk founder Mike Florio was still a full-time labor attorney in 2009 when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took a stance against the expansion of legalized sports betting. 

“The spread of sports betting … threatens to damage irreparably the integrity of, and public confidence in, NFL Football,” Goodell wrote in a motion as part of the league’s legal battle to halt Delaware’s effort to launch single-game betting in the state. “An increase in state-promoted sports betting would wrongly and unfairly engender suspicion and cynicism toward every on-the-field NFL event that affects the betting line.”

The NFL — along with other pro leagues and the NCAA — were successful in preventing Delaware’s sports betting expansion, at least until May 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). The decision effectively cleared the way for states to offer legalized sports betting, and about half have done so in the five-plus years since. 

“I frankly thought the commissioner would have to resign — not because of anything he did — but because it’s impossible to reconcile the things he had said in the past,” Florio told Front Office Sports.

Goodell’s 180 didn’t threaten his tenure as the NFL made deals with multiple sportsbooks worth hundreds of millions annually over the last two years. Even the 10 players currently suspended for violating the league’s gambling policy didn’t “inevitably … fuel speculation, distrust and accusations of point-shaving or game-fixing” as Goodell predicted in that July 2009 court filing. 

“I wonder how concerned they are about that now,” Florio quipped. 

Florio created ProFootballTalk in 2001, and the site ran on a server at his home in Bridgeport, West Virginia, in the early years. Before the rise of social media, PFT was a blog Florio ran as a hobby before it became one of the go-to sites for NFL news. 

And as Goodell and sports executives battled the scourge of sports betting in 2009, two key moments transformed the site: outreach from NBC Sports and the acquisition of the @ProFootballTalk Twitter account, which Florio said cost him a couple of PFT-branded sweatshirts. 

“I had great balance for me being independent [an NFL writer] and practicing law,” Florio said. “So when [longtime NBC Sports exec Rick Cordella] calls me up and he gives me a spiel, I did this whole thing that was shades of George Costanza when he and Jerry [Seinfeld] were in with NBC for their pitch. 

“I said, ’Hey, look, here’s how it’s gotta be. If anybody from NBC is gonna be telling me what I can and can’t write, what I can and can’t say, we’re wasting each other’s time.’ I thought it would prompt him to say, ‘Well, we obviously can’t allow some guy in West Virginia to have full and complete say over whatever he may put on this site that’s gonna be under the Peacock umbrella.’ But instead of that, he said, ’I have no problem with that.’”

Florio and Cordella struck a deal to license PFT’s content in June 2009. Florio still maintains ownership of the site. 

“The day the deal was announced, Dick Ebersol, who was the chairman of NBC Sports at the time, got calls and congratulations from Roger Goodell, Jerry Jones, and Robert Kraft,” Florio said he was told by a former NBC exec. “That told me everything I needed to know.”

 NBC Sports later created NBA (ProBasketballTalk), NHL (ProHockeyTalk), and other “Talk” sites on NBCSports.com, although only Florio’s has endured.

Beyond being the chief of PFT, Florio began a daily NFL talk show in 2010, “PFT Live.” (Chris Simms has co-hosted the show on Peacock with Florio since 2017.) Florio also began his appearances on NBC’s “Football Night in America” before Sunday night games in 2010. 

Twitter and other social media sites gave fans a voice beyond the PFT comment section, which, like many sites, no longer exists. Now, Florio and his writers — Michael David Smith, Josh Alper, Charean Williams and Myles Simmons — have had to adjust to rumors that flow from often-anonymous accounts. 

“Back in 2001, we would post rumors that we were actually hearing,” Florio said. “Those were accurate depictions of what we were hearing. And the people who actually were covering the teams would get pissed at times because their editors said, ‘You need to go see if this is true.’ That’s different from these accounts that’s bastardizing reality.

“One of the things that I need to have is to know that there’s a real person behind the account, and, ideally, a connection to some sort of publication. That requires this person to have some sort of skin in the game. I’m always nervous about giving credit to someone who’s unaffiliated or unknown because they have no incentive to be right.”

Florio has created fiction, although that’s thanks to his latest hobby: novelist. Florio, who penned the non-fiction “Playmakers: How the NFL Really Works” last year, recently released the mob thriller, “Father of Mine” — the idea of which came during a dream he had early in the pandemic. 

“We were still all hunkered down in our own little bubbles during COVID, so I popped open my laptop, and I just started writing,” Florio said. “Two months later, I had a manuscript.”

Like any sports news site that has been around as long, and posts with the volume, as PFT, errors happen. But Florio remains proud of the work PFT has done, and still enjoys editorial independence. 

“The fact that the relationships existed more than 14 years speaks for itself,” Florio said. 

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