Craig Hutchison has finally responded to repeated doubts over the financial state of his media empire, calling them “laughable”.
Chief executive of Sports Entertainment Network, Hutchison has been the subject of repeated stories in recent months over the viability of the company.
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The uncertainty has revolved around the company’s debt plus some of its acquisitions, which include professional sports teams in Australia and New Zealand plus radio stations in Sydney and Brisbane.
The man known as “Hutchy” had largely stayed silent to date, but decided to address the situation in a chat with good mate and journalist Damian Barrett on podcast The Sounding Board.
Barrett branded the situation “a two-month, sustained, personal attack” on Hutchison.
“The facts haven’t changed. Let me run over them again,” Hutchison begins.
“Our business made less than $5 million profit and … our debt has become quite famous, it’s $28 million 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.”
When asked if it was a financially crippling situation, Hutchy quickly responded: “That’s quite laughable. It’s really laughable.
“And the way it gets covered and portrayed is like I’m the bank and it’s my money and I’m overspending.
“The reality is 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 $500 million fund.
“Would we like to get our debt down a bit? Yes, we’ve been public about that. A lot of the numbers you read, in fact all of the numbers I read (in an article published) on Sunday were inaccurate bar none.
“We didn’t pay $11.2 million for the station in Sydney.
“To be fair it’s been fairly widely reported these numbers over a long period of time. It wasn’t the first time. It’s nothing personal.”
Barrett jumped on that statement, strongly suggesting there was a personal beef with News Corporation journalist Stephen Drill, who has written a number of articles on Hutchison and SEN’s finances.
The latest article extensively quoted radio veteran Graham Mott, who ran 3AW for more than a decade and SEN briefly, and also once fired Hutchison from a role at 3AW back in 2007.
“They have assets but they have paid too much for them and when I say too much I mean way too much,” Mott said in the Herald Sun article.
Mott added “Hutchy got rid of people who were performing and replaced them with higher paid people” and also declared: “If you, over a period of time, make enemies in the media, they don’t forget and they cheer like it’s New Year’s Eve when you fall down.”
Hutchison wouldn’t criticise any of the articles or any journalist directly, but had plenty to say about Mott, stating “asking him his views … is like asking a video store owner who they think is going to win the streaming wars”.
“Journalism is journalism, I don’t get involved in that. Let me just clarify some facts,” Hutchy said.
“So we didn’t pay $11.2 million for the Sydney station specifically, we paid $11.2 million for a bundle of stations … Sydney itself was far less even though in my opinion it is worth far more.
“In terms of Graham Mott … everyone’s entitled to their opinion and that’s Graham’s opinion and he was brave enough to share it.
“Equally as Graham is entitled to his opinion of me, I think I’m reasonably entitled to my opinion of him.
“He let me go in 2007 and I think I’ve said in hindsight it was a reasonable decision.
“My persona had got a little bit out of step and was a little too hot for that audience which is a bit more conservative.
“He was only at SEN for two minutes. He was there long before my time. I don’t know many people that remember even seeing him in the office or what his contribution was.
“He’s been consulting for 11 years but this is probably the first time anyone’s consulted him on anything.
“He didn’t believe in the digital radio age or the evolution of internet or podcasts or any of the areas of distribution.
“So asking him his views … is like asking a video store owner who they think is going to win the streaming wars. That’s the reality.
“He comes from a different era where he inherited other people’s builds of stations rather than having ever done it himself.
“So that’s the lens that he comes from, that’s the lens that I come from. I’m OK with his view of me, I in part agree with it on the on-air side of it in 2007.
”But in terms of our business and our people and where we’re going, I think he’s a bit out of step with modern times to be fair.”
Hutchison is also involved in a spat with Sydney radio host Ray Hadley.
Hadley was extremely critical of his perceived lack of success of the SEN network, with Hutchison hitting back with a dig about Hadley’s show being axed in Brisbane.
It’s not quite Murdoch vs Packer but we’re here for the drama.