Craig Hutchison: 50+ radio stations, podcasting, cricket, football & SENtrack


Insider’s guide to SEN: ‘It can take people a little while to get used to our model’

One of SEN CEO Craig Hutchison’s boldest moves was paying around $10m for the licence for 2CH in Sydney – 1170 on the AM band.

The new owners weren’t going to keep the Classic Hits format, they moved the music to a DAB+ channel under the same name, and used the AM frequency to launch SEN 1170 Sydney.

Using the traditional method of measuring radio success you’d have to call an underperformer. The ratings for 2CH’s final two surveys as a music brand saw station and breakfast shares over 4%. In SEN’s first year the station peaked at 0.7% and breakfast at 0.5%.

But ratings only convey part of the SEN story. “Because we distribute our content in so many ways it can take some people a little while to get used to our model,” said Hutchison.

For people who do get it, he added: “It has been highly effective and really successful with advertisers which is one of the reasons we have had such good client retention.”

As noted in our accompanying SEN 2021 review, serving content on multiple platforms to sports fans is the play. Part of the distribution method is podcasting.

See also: Craig Hutchison – Covid a speed bump for SEN, but it didn’t stop 2021 growth

“We have a total audience of 5.5m and 450,000 uniques in a peak month,” explained Hutchison. “We will keep growing. Podcasting fits into our full experience model. We are really interested in your attention with our products. We want to make a sports fan’s day better.”

The most listened to podcast is SEN Breakfast which is the aggregated company breakfast shows around Australia. The podcast was ranked #29 on the November Podcast Ranker chart. The SEN 1116 morning show hosted by Gerard Whately was also in the Ranker Top 40. Next best, at #51, was Hutchison’s own podcast The Sounding Board he co-hosts with the AFL’s and Triple M’s Damian Barrett.


2CH milestone

Hutchison is about taking calculated risks and doing things differently, but he also respects tradition. When talking about the Sydney market, he notes the forthcoming 2CH milestone with its 90th anniversary in 2022.

The former AM station, now living on as a DAB+ and online station, celebrates its 90th birthday in 2022. Breakfast host and radio veteran Tim Webster will turn 70 in 2022. “The audience love that brand,” said Hutchison. “Although we turned the frequency into a sport station, we didn’t want to turn our back on history. Even though our model is less traditional than most.”

Rainmaker, Ballpark and AFL Record

Keeping an eye over these diverse parts of the SEN group is former AFL executive Richard Simkiss. Hutchison notes that Rainmaker, with its state of the art studio facility that offers production, filming, editing, talent sourcing and delivery, is one of the most exciting and fast growing parts of the empire.

“Rainmaker has been doing a tremendous job led by Richard. It has invested in technology, distribution, and infrastructure. We have some big sports relationships and the TV studios in our building are pumping out content 24 hours a day.”

Rainmaker has deals with both the AFLW and WNBL, amongst others, to distribute the codes’ content.

On the other hand Ballpark and AFL Publishing have been knocked around by Covid. The absence of sports crowds and travel restrictions have grounded much of Ballpark’s event business.

Just 12 months after SEN stitched a deal to publish the AFL Record magazine, Covid struck meaning there were no football grounds selling the title to fans.

“The AFL Record team have done a great job given the challenges they have had over the last two years. We are really looking forward to being back at venues with crowds. Our team has managed to evolve a product that is 110 years old in April next year.

Looking after the publishing is just part of a wider AFL relationship.

Hutchison: “AFL Radio has been great for us and the AFL as we help build the game in NSW and Queensland.” Something SEN has done with syndication deals and now also via its own stations.

“We broadcast the Suns, Swans and Giants live every game. They can be heard on as many as three stations in Sydney on 2UE, 2SM and 1170. In Brisbane games can be heard on 4BH and various stations in regional NSW.

“In some markets we do AFL and NRL every weekend which is a great honour.”


SEN executive director Chris Giannopolous with CEO Craig Hutchison

Bravo Management

The talent management business is led by longtime Craig Hutchison colleague Chris Giannopoulos who also sits on the SEN board.

Bravo merged with Precision sports management in 2019. Precision managing director Liam Pickering and Giannopoulos are long-time associates, having first worked together at IMG where Giannopoulos was the director of client management and new business development for over 14 years. Pickering joined Giannopoulos in 2001 to run IMG’s AFL player management before establishing Precision in 2014.

The SEN app

SENtrack: Chasing, pacing and racing

“It’s been very successful and we have built a community around it,” said Hutchison of the racing radio brand SENtrack that has flourished with stations around Australia.

He explained the racing industries have been super supportive. “They realise we have identified a new style of fan in addition to creating new fans. We have celebrated how wonderful those industries are in terms of the volume of events they run in their communities around the country. On an average raceday there might be 30 or more events around Australia and New Zealand. That is a lot of people being employed and economic stimulus in those towns and communities.

We don’t have a model for the serious professional punter. We are more for people who might turn up at the pub on a Saturday with their friends to have a laugh and a quaddie.

SENtrack manages all this without calling any thoroughbred racing. There is plenty of discussion about horse racing though.

Hutchison explained: “Our audience don’t miss it as a live call. We take audio of harness racing and greyhounds. If you want to follow thoroughbred racing there are plenty of places to watch it from Sky Chanel, Seven on Saturdays, and various betting apps. For audio only you are catered for by Sky Sport Radio or RSN. If you want to really experience a day with your friends, we are the place.

Hutchy said SENtrack had identified the gap in the market. “The gap is in providing the tips, the banter, key people and how they perform. To have industry credibility, but to also have a laugh along the way. We are building a community, a brand that is very interactive with the audience.

“The others in the space don’t have the luxury of what we can do. They have to go race to race to race. They can’t spend 20 minutes talking about one particular meeting, we can if we want to. That’s the difference.”

Those racing codes that SENtrack goes all in on are ones that other media overlooks. “We are a big believer in choice. In our model, and our app is built to suit this, you should be able to find whatever you are into. It might be our SENW podcast channel for women’s sport, all the way through to harness racing in Western Australia.”


Cricket on SEN

This summer so far SEN has covered the WBBL and has the exclusive radio coverage of the BBL. It also has the Ashes Tests – exclusive commercial AM broadcaster – along with Triple M and ABC.

“We have established commentators like Gerard Whately and Anthony Hudson. We have hired a lot of cricketers along the way like Ian Healy in Brisbane, Adam Gilchrist in Perth. It’s a great radio sport and a great storytelling platform. It’s even more popular in New Zealand where it is huge. We follow the Black Caps wherever they are around the world.

We are very invested in cricket as a business.


SEN Adelaide breakfast hosts Kane and Hayesy

SEN by the numbers

The Sports Entertainment Network has become a media beast that’s devoured radio licences across two counties. Over 50 in fact – here’s the breakdown.

28 radio stations in New Zealand

24 radio stations in Australia (and still growing – 15 are SENtrack stations)

SEN broadcasts nine separate breakfast shows – Garry and Tim in Melbourne, Kane and Hayesy in Adelaide, Adam Gilchrist with Tim Gossage (Gilly and Goss) in Perth, Jack Riewoldt in Tasmania, Andrew Voss in Sydney, Tim Webster in Sydney (at Classic Hits), Pat Welsh and Ian Healy (Pat and Heals) in Queensland and Brendon McCullum and Israel Dagg (Bazz and Izzy) in New Zealand.

Top photo: SEN 1170 breakfast host Vossy helping build the brand in Sydney

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