Hernan Lopez, the founder and chief executive of the podcast studio Wondery, says he is confident that when his day in court comes he will be cleared of charges that have tied him to a bribery scheme related to international rights to soccer television broadcasts. “I did nothing wrong,” said Lopez in some of his first public comments about the federal indictment.
“The events that the government alleges happened anywhere between 5 and 15 years ago and had nothing to do with Wondery, and I had nothing to do with them,” Lopez said on Peter Kafka’s Recode Media podcast. “There’s really not much that I can do other than to fight it in the court. I’m convinced that when the facts are in front of a jury, the jury will see what I am saying [is true]. I am also heartened that I’ve had the support of my employees, my investors, and my listeners, through this whole time because it is not easy but it’s what I have to do.”
Federal prosecutors charged Argentine-born Lopez and fellow Fox executive Carlos Martinez in March, alleging they paid millions of dollars in bribes to secure rights for the World Cup and other Latin American soccer tournaments for his former employer, 21st Century Fox. The indictment also alleges the Fox executives relied on loyalty secured through the payment of bribes to advance the business interests of Fox, including to obtain confidential bidding information for the rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments in the U.S.
A 53-count indictment charges Lopez and Martinez with wire fraud, money laundering and related offenses. The men were arraigned in federal court in Brooklyn in April. Each of the offenses carries a maximum of 20 years of prison time, and, if convicted, each defendant faces mandatory restitution, forfeiture and fines.
Lopez said he alerted Wondery’s 65 employees, all of whom either own company stock or options, of the charges before they were made public. “They know my true character. Everyone who knows me knows that is not me,” he said. Lopez did not address the allegations directly but said it hasn’t been a “distraction” for Wondery’s business. “It’s something for lawyers to deal with and I’m looking forward to having a trial and I can prove to the jury that what I’m saying is right,” he said. “It’s been painful for me and my family to have to have these conversations, but what really has kept me going is the fact that we are building a great business.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Lopez said Wondery is on track to grow its revenue during the second quarter. He said the company “grew a lot” in April, and a “little less” in May, but overall, the trajectory is up. “The ad business is no question smaller than it would have been if the pandemic hadn’t happened,” said Lopez. “There’s definitely an increase in audience and definitely an increase in advertisers, obviously the sell through rates are lower than in the first quarter – but we’re still growing.” He credits Wondery’s concerted effort during the past six months to be closer to brand advertisers who want to be closer to podcasts that are buzzworthy.
Lopez also said that Wondery has pushed back some releases that had been scheduled for second quarter to third quarter, hoping both advertising and listening levels will be higher as more of the world adjusts to the new normal during the coronavirus.