The Price of Football (priceoffootball.com)
I’ve paid my tax bill, so now I’m strong enough to listen to shows about money, and Wondery’s WeCrashed is a how-did-they-get-away-with-it? cautionary financial tale that I’ve been very much enjoying. It tells the tale of WeWork, the office-space company started by Adam Neumann in New York in 2010. WeWork’s USP was that its office spaces were more than a collection of chichi hot desks for trendy entrepreneurs trying to hustle a living. WeWork was a community, a place for those clever young people to meet like-minded others so they could all work together to make nice stuff. And nice money.
Unfortunately – and you may be ahead of me here – the only people making proper money out of all this were Neumann and his business partner, Miguel McKelvey. Neumann was, and probably still is, possessed of a remarkable charisma. Tall, long-haired, good-looking, he not only persuaded small businesses to rent his spaces, but also sweet-talked a staggering amount of rich people into investing in his company, which just last year was valued at $47bn.
We’re three episodes into this six-part show, and the sense of imminent failure is building. Also piling up is a huge amount of schadenfreude, the most satisfying emotional reward of such tales. It’s fun. WeCrashed, like all Wondery series, is a lickety-split listen, pacy and slightly camp. (It’s interesting how Wondery has broken with the standard clever-clever, vocally fried podcast presentation style of a few years back, and instead promoted a sort of TV biopic narration: cheesy but effective.) Presenter David Brown, who also hosts Business Wars, conveys wryness as well as moral incredulity.
In the past year or so, we’ve seen many of these rise-and-fall-of-the-huckster money podcasts, from Radio 5 Live’s The Missing Cryptoqueen to The Dropout to Escaping NXIVM (slightly different, though it is, in the end, about money). Unlike these, WeWork’s founders appear to be guilty of hubris and hype, rather than anything criminal, but it’s noticeable that almost all of these set-ups share the same modus operandi: they promise love as well as cash. They give inspiring speeches that unite crowds while making each person feel an individual. They are, in short, cult leaders (literally, in the case of NXIVM’s Keith Raniere), and there are two key quotes in WeCrashed that makes this clear.
The first comes from someone whose company was taken over by WeWork, who says of Neumann: “I’m always suspicious of people who are charming, because my dad told me that Ted Bundy was charming”; the second is a financial commentator who identifies the early 2000s as a time “where disruptive or interesting ideas with a charismatic leader were attracting such insanely cheap capital that they could do insanely irrational things”. It’s amazing that even the very rich fall for high-wattage BS, but they clearly do. And, unless you’re one of those who lost money, it’s immensely enjoyable finding out just how the BS-ers do it. In Neumann’s case, it involved actually banging a gong every time a WeWorker achieved something he thought was good.
More money in another podcast, The Price of Football. Obviously, this one isn’t for anyone who actively dislikes football, but for even a casual fan (me), it’s a very interesting listen. Kevin Day, familiar to many from BBC TV football coverage (Day tends to be at the smaller grounds, talking to fans), teams up with financial expert Kieran Maguire, and they unpick the shenanigans around what no one still calls the beautiful game: from Fifa’s desire to earn money on non-World Cup years, to why financiers would call Manchester United’s Edward Woodward a thoroughgoing success.
Day asks the right questions and Maguire is impressive with his research: in last week’s show he pointed out that a newspaper financial football story was completely wrong, without being rude about it. The machinations of sponsorship, TV rights, stand maintenance, even crowdfunding, are laid bare, and somehow this sheds light on to the actual games themselves. Big money is interesting, and far more fragile than we think.
Three post-Brexit political shows
Remainiacs was a funny, well-informed, thoroughly independent weekly podcast for those who remoaned and were proud of it. So what now for such people? Well, they can listen to The Bunker, which allows them to catch up with the Remainiacs gang and follows a similar format. Hosted by Andrew Harrison, guests include Dorian Lynskey, Ian Dunt, Naomi Smith and Alex Andreou. Only two episodes in and they’ve zoomed straight up the iTunes chart, covering impeachment for dummies and the problem with boomers with much wit and joie de vivre. Swearing guaranteed.
Brexitcast was a smash success for the BBC, so what to do now it’s over too? Well, two things. First, the Brexitcast crew will return soon with Newscast, covering UK politics. And second, last week saw the launch of Americast. This teams Emily Maitlis with Jon Sopel, both brilliant journalists but also – this is crucial – friends. Sopel is in the US, Maitliss in the UK (similar to Brexitcast’s double coverage), and their informed, chatty vibe is designed to enlighten those who are interested in the US presidential race but find all this talk of caucuses and primaries baffling in the extreme.
Page 94: The Private Eye Podcast
When Private Eye first started its podcast, in 2015, I was very rude about it, because it was rubbish. It isn’t now, and its latest episode demonstrates why. It’s an in-depth investigation of the recent Post Office workers’ scandal, where, due to the PO’s rubbish computer systems, many sub-postmasters were wrongly accused of fraud. “A classic government procurement cock-up,” says presenter Andrew Hunter Murray. It’s a reminder of how UK life is mostly lived outside Brexit, now that there’s little media space left to cover it. Page 94 isn’t regular, but it is, now, very good.