SKY Sports Executive Producer and head of boxing Adam Smith was an interested spectator at the recent Legends showdown between Drinagh Rangers and Liverpool at Canon Crowley Park, Drinagh. John Bohane catches up with him on his recent visit to West Cork.
Affable London native Adam Smith enjoys his holidays every year in the West Cork region due to his wife’s connection to the area — her grandmother, Mary Walsh, originally hails from Drinagh. Indeed one of his wife’s cousins, James Walsh, lined out for the Drinagh Legends against Liverpool in the recent soccer clash. Keen to escape the hustle and bustle of his native London, West Cork provides the ideal summer break for the boxing enthusiast and his family, as he elaborated. “I’ve been coming to West Cork for the last decade or so. I absolutely love the area. It is my home away from home. We come as a family for ten days every summer. I have Irish roots; my grandmother hailed from Dublin, while my wife’s father’s family hails from Drinagh. My wife’s grandmother grew up in Laherna, Drimoleague, before she moved to England. Mary Walsh and her husband bought a beautiful cottage by Curraghlickely Lake, Drinagh, which we love. It is ideal — the kids have an acre of ground to run around. The scenery is beautiful but what I especially love about West Cork is that the people are so friendly.”
Adam, a self-confessed Liverpool fan, was greatly impressed by the ‘friendly’ encounter served up last month at Canon Crowley Park, which attracted a huge crowd to the picturesque Drinagh region. “We travelled over a day earlier than expected this summer especially to watch the Legends game. We were at the soccer game against the Ireland legends last year in Dunmanway, which was also a great event. My son is a big Liverpool fan also. We really enjoyed the day out. I used to cheer on Ronnie Whelan and Ray Houghton from the Kop when I was younger, so to meet them and watch them play in Drinagh was great. It was a fantastic event. The highlight for me was meeting all the players in the Gaelic Bar afterwards. I was like a kid in a sweet shop, as all those famous former players were my heroes growing up. A lot of the Liverpool players are big boxing fans so we had a great catch up. The game proved a tremendous boost for the area. The Drinagh Rangers legends played very well also on the day. I was very impressed by them. It was a great day out.”
Adam is one of Sky Sports’ leading boxing presenters, reporters and commentators. He initially served his apprenticeship with TV-Am, CNN and ITN, before joining the British Broadcasting giants in 1994. He has subsequently advanced to become one of the leading sporting presenters on British TV and is widely regarded as possessing one of the most authoritative and respected voices, which has led to him anchoring Sky Sports News also. He has covered the biggest boxing fights on both sides of the Atlantic. He has written and produced documentaries on Ricky Hatton, Joe Calzaghe and Prince Naseem amongst others, while he has also spent time in training camps with Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather Jr. According to Adam, it is the realisation of a dream he has long held since childhood. “I wanted to be a sports commentator since I was a kid. I used to turn down the radio for the various sporting events and practice my commentary. The late Peter O’Sullivan was one of the first people I learned from. I was okay but not great at sport, but I loved watching and talking about it. One of my earliest boxing memories was watching Barry McGuigan win the WBA featherweight championship belt following a dramatic fight against Pedroza in Loftus Road in 1985. Barry was a real icon. The thrill of boxing hit me from an early age. I studied TV and drama at University and I worked with CNN in Washington and on the newsdesk with INN. When I initially joined Sky, they were a smaller company with about 50 people employed, whereas today there are over 600 employees — it is a huge operation. My love of boxing helped, as I gradually worked my way up.”
Adam is fully conscious of the rapidly changing media industry he operates in today. It is a far cry from the early days of his media career when “emails were not even operating at that stage”. He is well aware of the role social media plays with regards today’s rapidly developing modern media. He and his colleagues at Sky Sports have opted to embrace social media to retain the interest of the youth market, as he explains. “The industry has really changed in the last 21 years. Technology has moved at such a pace. Young people are driving all these social media mediums such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc. The key for us is to retain our appeal to the younger generation. We aim to do that with our sports content, both online and digital, which are key components for us going forward. We also have to ensure we keep providing the best analysis and quality commentary, while continuing to provide the best live coverage of all sports. In relation to our boxing coverage, we keep adding to our team of analysts with a number of recent appointments such as Jamie Moore and Carl Froch, both recently retired ex-boxers, who are still very close to the game, which ensures they provide detailed and accurate analysis. The impact technology has had on Sky is immense. We started off with only one channel; today we have numerous channels, as well as Sky Go, Apps, Sky Digital. It is always evolving. It is very exciting.”
Adam has built up a plethora of magical memories during the course of his 21 years, both commentating and presenting the Sky Sports boxing coverage. There are a few moments, which he treasures the most, as he nostalgically reflects back.
“There have been some real standout memories. The whole week leading up to Prince Naseem’s debut fight in Madison Square Garden in 1997 was special. The Prince was a brilliant entertainer and the fight was superb. The Froch versus Groves fight last year at Wembley in front of 80,000 people also was a brilliant night. I’m hoping we can have a big outdoor boxing event every year, as people are falling in love with boxing again. We have the narrative and the stories. Both Irish and British boxing are in a really good shape at present. There are some super boxers with great personalities out there just waiting to be told.
“Another great memory I have is the fight between Steve Collins and Chris Eubank in Millstreet in 1995. It was an amazing night following a great build up. That was the start of boxing for Sky Sports in Ireland.”
While Adam appreciates the growing rise of UFC worldwide and particularly in Ireland given the incredible progress of Conor McGregor, he is confident that boxing will always retain its huge appeal. “I don’t think UFC is a threat, although the young are really buying into it. It definitely has a place in the market. UFC has packaged it brilliantly. It has got a good narrative. For boxing to remain strong we need to ensure the best fights involving the best fighters at their very peak happen. These fights, such as Khan versus Brooks, Frampton versus Quigg etc, are the big fights, which help generate mass interest. The key for boxing is to keep the big fights coming and to ensure that access to all boxers is kept strong so the young can identify with their heroes. Boxing is and will continue to attract a big audience. It is a special sport. The discipline required is amazing.”
Adam is also gushing in his praise for Irish boxing heroine Katie Taylor, who is the current Irish, European, World and Olympic champion in the 60kg division. “She is an unbelievable ambassador for Ireland. She is a superstar. She is an unbelievable sports woman. She is a great fighter and a great person — so modest and down to earth, it is incredible. She is a shining star, a hero for the Irish people.”