While he runs his expanding Crocmedia and entertainment interests on weekdays, Craig Hutchison (Hutchy) keeps busy on weekends during the AFL season with radio commitments on Saturday and then a focus on his TV schedule on Sunday.
We spoke with Hutchy early on a Saturday during the preparation for his morning ahead on the Off the Bench syndicated radio show. “I personally have got four hours of radio ahead, but as a business we have around 40 hours of radio across the weekend which keeps us pretty busy,” he told Mediaweek.
While his media content company Crocmedia produces many shows analysing and previewing the AFL, they also hold regional AFL radio rights which means covering every game. The newer business is Ballpark Entertainment.
Hutchy looks like he is working harder than ever on the business in 2016. “I haven’t had a drink for 13 weeks and maybe that makes you a bit sharper and a little better at what you do. It is a big year for us – it is the last year of an AFL rights deal, the first year of our A-League rights deal and the last year of deals for some of our television shows.”
Although he works for Nine and on Crocmedia-owned properties, everything Hutchison earns is funnelled through the company. “Even as a Nine identity or for my radio work everything sits within those businesses. Crocmedia is probably about 99% of my time. I don’t personally take on any projects unless it is good for that business.
“As a business we have six different verticals,” he explained:
• Branded content which is radio, television and digital
• Sponsorships and partnerships – working with brands to help leverage their relationships with sports away from media
• Events talent activation team who support their media partners
• Strategic relationship with Bravo Talent Management which is headed by Chris Giannopoulos
• Production services business
• Ballpark Entertainment which is a sports experience business
“Across those six things it doesn’t leave much time for rest each day.”
In addition to his business activities, Hutchison has started his own podcast with Crocmedia colleague Damian Barrett called The Sounding Board. After paying tribute to the Mediaweek podcasts, Hutchy noted Crocmedia had been podcasting its shows on Holden Sports Radio and The Zone.
“Damian was really the architect of The Sounding Board. He really wanted to do a podcast and he had a few offers to do one. I agreed to do it with him as long as we didn’t have to talk about sport or football in particular because AFL can get a bit exhausting when you are in the bubble. I thought it could show a different side of both of us, but after six weeks it has pretty much ended up being all about sport!”
When it comes to his broadcasting, many sports fans like Hutchy’s honesty, although there are some who claim it is manufactured with an eye to ratings and commercial success.
When asked how he walks the line between honesty and commercial interests, he replied, “Probably not very well. I like to have fun on air – we can all take ourselves a little seriously at times. I come from the school that thinks it is OK to say what you like about someone else, and they can do the same too. Unfortunately most people take it to heart if you criticise them. Just because you disagree with someone’s view doesn’t mean you dislike them as a person. It is all show business and people want to be entertained by different views.”
Crocmedia has grown to a substantial business with significant costs it needs to cover every week. Hutchy sees that as a motivator…“It gets you out of bed every morning.
“We made a lot of mistakes along the way…and are still making them. We have a great general manager in Jodie Simm who has a finance background and who could be one of the great female executives in the country over time.
“Chris Giannopoulos is a real star, who handles all the distribution and who has a great win-win philosophy on partner relationships with stations which can be challenging.
“Our new chief commercial officer is Sam Bingley who comes from Southern Cross. We also have terrific producers and a great sales team and a fantastic strategy and solutions team headed by Alex Sallmann. Rebecca Mulgrew joined us from the AFL to run sponsorships and partnerships while Emma Cashman runs Ballpark Entertainment.
“We have a real nucleus of elite people who are outstanding in the areas I am hopeless. I am blessed being carried along by those people.”
Hutchy really delivers on two fronts for Crocmedia. He provides great content, and he truly enjoys the business partnerships and keeping the customers happy. “A lot of people sees sales and sponsorship in a media business as a necessary evil. That never enters my thinking. Most journalists get into the business because they are curious. That is why journalism is not a bad basis for business. We get to work with some of the biggest businesses in Australia and find out why they do things. It fascinates me why big brands make decisions.”
Crocmedia radio business
Although Melbourne audiences enjoy the Saturday morning two hours of Off the Record, there are also another two hours which are for regional audiences only, as are many other Crocmedia products. “We love regional Australia,” confirmed Hutchy. “It is in the DNA of our business and it is very authentic. I am a country boy and Liam Pickering [Off the Bench co-host] is a country boy. No other company has really made mass media for regional Australia before Crocmedia. Regional Australia accounts for 35-40% of the population and in general has had to inherit second-hand media and we wanted to make something a little different.
“We don’t want to be defined as a regional provider and we have also grown more programs into metro markets too. Across all radio we provide more than 200 stations with more than 250 hours a week.
“We have had an A-League rights partnership this year which went into 25 markets including our grand final coverage being broadcast on Fiveaa which was a nice way to finish the season.
“We are seven years into an AFL radio rights deal with a renewal hopefully to come. The footy is a big product for us and this week we launched Swans radio and Giants radio into NSW via The Super Network into 22 markets including 2SM in Sydney. When asked bout Super Network owner Bill Caralis, Hutchy said: “Like all our radio partners, if you are honest and upfront then it works OK. He did a great job of building that network in his own unique way.
“We also have a Sportsday drive show which has five editions – Victoria/Tasmania, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and West Australia.
“Off the Bench on Saturdays has nine different versions – Tasmania, metro Melbourne, Victoria, NSW/southern Queensland, Northern Queensland, regional South Australia, Northern Territory, two versions in West Australia and a version into Adelaide. It can be tailored for our brand partners and the content can be parochial to those areas.”
Off the Bench is generally a Friday night or Saturday morning show and Crocmedia fits the program to the station’s needs. Ben Ikin and his crew work on the NSW and Queensland versions while in South Australia you can hear Kane Cornes and in West Australia Tim Gossage and Scotty Cummings.
“We have had a lot of fun and we are still learning.”