West Virginia lawyer's NFL blog goes big time


CLARKSBURG -- Mike Florio says he'll miss practicing labor law in Clarksburg. But the lure of working full-time on his other passion -- writing about professional football -- is too strong to ignore.

Florio, 44, started his incisive sports blog ProFootballTalk.com in November 2001. Eight years later, NBC Sports came calling asking for a partnership.

Florio accepted. He's thought about giving up being a lawyer for the site before, after all.

"Practicing law and running the site has worked well, because I have been reducing my practice as the site has grown," Florio said during an e-mail interview with The West Virginia Record. "There have been some periodic long days (and weeks), and I've wrestled for the past couple of years with whether to stop practicing law completely. When the NBC opportunity came along, I knew it was time to move on."

Florio said the partnership had been brewing since January, when Rick Cordella became the general manager of NBC Sports Digital in February. He said he and Cordella had discussed a partnership in Tampa a few days before the Super Bowl.

Cordella previously had run another site, Rotoworld.com, which is owned by NBC, Florio said. He said the two sites had maintained a good relationship over the years.

Other than the added credibility, Florio said the NBC affiliation will give the site some more exposure.

"The biggest benefit comes from promotion of the site," Florio said. "We've never spent a penny on advertising."

Even without advertising, Florio's site attracts millions of views every year. Florio said the site grew in popularity through word of mouth, radio spots and his writing columns for SportingNews.com.

"NBC will be promoting (the site) agressively, unlocking a new universe of readers for us," Florio said. "Even though we've been around for nearly eight years, a lot of people still don't know about the site."

The deal will have Florio and a business partner retaining ownership of the site. The content will be licensed to NBC. The site will "live" on NBC's servers, Florio said. And the broadcasting giant will supply Florio with backup writers when he needs them.

Florio said he started following the National Football League closely when he was about eight years old.

Born and raised in Wheeling, he said it was hard not to be a rabid Pittsburgh Steelers fan in the 1970s, a decade in which the the team won three Super Bowl championships. He always preferred the Minnesota Vikings.

Nowadays, being a journalist and all, he's a little more objective about who he's rooting for come Sunday.

"I really don't have a favorite team," he said. "My tongue-in-cheek official position is that I dislike them all equally."

Growing up, Florio said he played baseball, soccer, basketball and, yes, football. But he didn't play football in high school because he "wanted to be a wideout, but was way too big and slow to do it."

After graduating from Central Catholic High School in Wheeling in 1983, Florio said he pursued an engineering career at Carnegie Mellon.

"I worked in a co-op engineering program at a Chevron refinery in Northern California, and it convinced me that I didn't want to be an engineer," Florio said. "I stumbled across the possibility of law school, and I was drawn to it immediately. Once I realized that no specific undergraduate degree was needed to go to law school, I decided to change gears -- to the extreme delight of my mother."

That last part is sarcasm, Florio said.

Florio graduated from West Virginia University's law school in 1991. He and his wife Jill practiced law in Pittsburgh for a while before they got married.

They returned to West Virginia because Jill's got a lot of family in Harrison County, so the couple decided to settle in Bridgeport. Jill is a lawyer for Steptoe & Johnson.

The couple has a son, Alex, who is a seventh grader. Florio said the boy wants to start playing football.

Florio's mother and father died in 1995 and 1998, respectively. Florio said its been 20 years since his mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

"They gave her six months," Florio said. "She made it six years and six months. Her initial goal was to make it to my law school graduation in 1991, so of course once she did she assumed that she would die shortly thereafter. She still fought it for four-plus years after that."

Florio began writing for a now-defunct site called NFLtalk.com in June 2000. When that site went under and was bought out by ESPN.com, Florio got hired on there and wrote a rumor and news report.

After his six-month contract expired with ESPN.com, he decided to start his own site.

"I was working too many hours, the money from ESPN.com wasn't great and the editorial oversight was stifling," Florio said.

With the NBC partnership, Florio said he plans to discontinue his law practice on July 1. But he's going to see one wrongful discharge case to its conclusion, he said. He'll keep his Clarksburg office open just in case he decides to start practicing again.

He's been practicing for the last 18 years. The first half had him representing employers against employee claims. The second half has been the other way around, he said.

"A lawyer who defends employers rarely has the freedom to pass on a case in which the lawyer doesn't personally believe," Florio said. "If a law firm tells a corporate client 'no' as to one specific case, that case and all other cases for that corporate client likely will be assigned to a competing firm.

"A lawyer who represents individuals in such cases can take on only those cases in which the lawyer passionately believes. It has made the second half of my career far more satisfying than the first half, and I would welcome the opportunity to do it again, if this path of life that few of us can ever truly control leads me back in that direction."

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