Craig Hutchison has made fresh comment on the apparent financial woes of his media empire, calling the reports “laughable”.
The former journalist turned business owner bought Sports Entertainment Network (SEN) and took over as CEO in January 2018, and has since nationalised the company and invested in professional sporting clubs.
He has taken SEN into every major city in Australia, plus internationally to New Zealand, while also acquiring the NBL’s Perth Wildcats and joining Super Netball with the Melbourne Mavericks.
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The business’s expansion has understandably tallied a sizeable bill, with Hutchison previously acknowledging the costs.
But he took exception to a report that drew on the inflammatory views of former SEN boss Graham Mott.
Mott, who ran 3AW for over a decade and SEN for six months before Hutchison took over, took aim at his successor in an interview with News Corp.
“They have assets but they have paid too much for them, and when I say too much — I mean way too much,” he said.
“I fired Hutchy from 3AW in 2007. His performance on air was appalling. I got rid of him.”
“I left (SEN) just before (Hutchy arrived); I saw what it produced, it was well set up,” Mott continued.
“I managed SEN for six months after Barrie (Quick, former CEO) left. The business was in very good shape and it had a low cost base. It was making a reasonable profit.
“Hutchy got rid of people who were performing and replaced them with higher paid people.
“The station got too cerebral. Gerard Whateley is an accomplished broadcaster but his relationship with the SEN audience isn’t there.”
Responding to the coverage, which found voice in The Age as well where the newspaper labelled his business as “on the ropes”, Hutchison sought to set the record straight.
“The coverage is what it is — journalists are entitled to do their job and I don’t seek to get in the way of that and I understand in public life you’ve got to cop what comes with it. That’s the way the cookie crumbles,” he said on The Sounding Board podcast.
“The facts haven’t changed, so let me run over them again. Our business made less than $5m profit and we had some write-downs, largely on the back of New Zealand (expansion), that affected our overall number. But in terms of cash, we made not quite five (million) — the high fours.
“Our debt has become quite famous, it’s $28m, or about 12 weeks of turnover. That’s on the public record and we’ve been very public since June that we’re seeking to reduce that.”
News Corp had described SEN as a “bottomless money pit” as a result of Hutchison’s “wild spending spree”.
“It’s quite laughable, it’s really laughable,” Hutchison said in response.
“The way it gets covered and portrayed is like: I’m the bank and it’s my money and I’m overspending and hanging on… The reality is this: I’m the second-largest shareholder in the business; the largest shareholder is Viburnum, which is a strategic, financially rational company with a great track record and success story, and is a more than $500m fund.
“Would we like to get out debt down a little bit? Yes — we’ve been public about that being part of our strategic agenda. It was always part of the framework of getting an asset base that we can sustain our business from for a period of time.
“Six years ago, we were a series of relationships. Now we’re a series of assets and relationships. That’s been a build and a transformation.”
The article also attempted to detail the damning numbers involved in SEN’s acquisitions, specifically those pertaining to its Brisbane and Sydney mastheads.
Hutchison, a former newsbreaker himself, refuted them all.
“All of the numbers I read on Sunday were inaccurate, bar none,” he said.
“We didn’t pay $11.2m for the Sydney station specifically; we paid $11.2m for a bundle of stations that we announced on that day, and it’s always been interpreted that that was the cost of Sydney. Sydney itself was far less, even though it’s worth, in my opinion, much more.
“And if you are in 2024 and don’t have a Sydney asset in your media mix as a national advertising brand, I’m not sure what the future looks like without that investment.”
The 48-year-old then turned his attention directly to Mott and hardly minced his words.
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. That’s Graham’s opinion and he was brave enough to share it,” Hutchison said.
“People are entitled to have an opinion from whatever lens they feel like, and the paper are entitled to ring him. No problem with that. That’s journalism and that’s how it works and that’s the view of Graham.
“Equally, as Graham’s entitled to his opinion of me, I think I’m reasonably entitled to my opinion of him.
“Some context around Graham’s opinion – I was a weekend presenter on 3AW when Graham was the general manager. He did let me go in the middle of 2007.
“I think I’ve said many times on this podcast that I actually think in hindsight it was a reasonable decision — my persona had got a little bit out of step and was a little bit too hot for that audience, which is a little bit more conservative. He was entitled to make changes, and he did.
“He was only at SEN for two minutes, he was there long before my time. I don’t know many people who remember seeing him in the office or what his contribution was.
“He had a go at it and it didn’t work for him, and he’s tried to be on a board or two since and that hasn’t worked either.
“He’s been consulting for 11 years but this is probably the first time anyone’s consulted him on anything.
“He didn’t believe a digital radio age or the evolution of the internet or podcasts or any of the areas of distribution, so asking him his views — and I’m not saying his views are right, wrong or indifferent — but (asking for) his views is like asking a video store owner who they think its going to win the streaming wars. That’s the reality.
“His opinion of us is that. My opinion is, he comes from a different era where he inherited other people’s builds of stations rather than ever doing it himself.”
Hutchison’s The Sounding Board co-host Damien Barrett added: “That’s a fair return serve there, ‘Hutchy’ — you’ve unloaded there”.
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