Shallow, manipulative snake-oil salesman or “horribly admirable” builder of Australia’s version of ESPN? Meet Craig Hutchison, the university dropout turned journalist who created a national sports media empire by stealth.
In a private bar at the “Paris End” of Collins Street in Melbourne, the Stella Artois is flowing and the banter is blowing as a server with strawberry blonde curls, wearing a pink cheerleader uniform, is handing out mini hotdogs. It’s 10am on a Monday in February, and as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Kansas City Chiefs in the US Super Bowl, a girthy middle-aged viewer goads his mate into another schooner: “C’arn, ya soft cock!”
The room is well-fed and well-lubricated, well-heeled and well-connected, filled with alpha males from real estate and finance, Lottoland and McDonald’s, and the sprawling tentacles of the sports industry. Former AFL executive Richard Simkiss chats with retired Philadelphia Eagles punter Saverio Rocca. Heavyweight player agent Paul Connors catches up with veteran broadcaster Dwayne Russell. Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Danny O’Brien says g’day to Melbourne Racing Club chairman Mike Symons.
They’re here because of their mate, their host, the big bald guy in the blue suit, 6 foot 3 with a waistline he’s trying to tighten, who has more power than all of them combined. It’s Craig Hutchison, known in this city since the 1990s as a dogged and combative journalist, now a canny and ruthless businessman.
“Hutchy”, 46, is chief executive and majority shareholder of the Sports Entertainment Network, a company he created 15 years ago as a tiny PR agency named Crocmedia, which later morphed into a prolific creator of syndicated sports radio content and is now a byzantine beast that owns and operates 21 radio stations across Australia, with broadcast rights to the AFL, NRL, soccer, cricket, basketball and more. With about $70 million in annual revenue, it has turned this country boy and university dropout into a millionaire media mogul…
Cover image by Kristoffer Paulsen