Nigel Smart has cleared his desk at the Adelaide Football Club, closing a 29-year chapter as an original Crow – and on departure, he is still needing to explain to former team-mates his work as an administrator rather than his much-debated image as a player.
Premiership team-mate Kym Koster was quizzing Smart on Monday night on why the Adelaide Football Club in 2017 entered the video-game world of eSports – and Smart again needed to defend the AFL club against claims this venture has distracted the Crows from its core function of winning football games.
“It is very complex,” Smart told InDaily. “And it is interesting to compare us with the Richmond Football Club as we were in similar places leading up to the 2017 AFL grand final.
“We went to eSports (for alternative revenue streams that in 2019 generated $2 million of non-football related income for the Crows). Richmond went into leisure centres.
“We are challenged on (the supposed distraction of) eSports; no-one questions Richmond because they have won three flags from 2017.
“We chose a different path (in football) to Richmond. We made some blues. We suffer the consequences.”
Smart leaves the Adelaide Football Club after first playing 278 AFL games as a member of the inaugural Crows squad from 1991-2004, serving as vice-captain to Mark Bickley in the 1997-1998 premiership double. An All-Australian in his AFL debut season in 1991 and again in 1993 and 1998, Smart built a reputation as a damaging defender (he kicked 116 goals) with a particular image – an independent free spirit noted by his eagerness to try firewalking at a Crows pre-season camp in 1992.
On retiring as a player, Smart joined the Crows board of directors in 2005 and was deputy chairman to Bill Sanders in 2009. He moved to the club’s full-time administration as chief operating officer in 2013 serving chief executive Steven Trigg to 2015 and Andrew Fagan until this week.
Smart, 51, leaves the Crows noting he was “loyal” to the club in all his roles where he reached No.2 in player leadership, on the board and in the executive team.
“Maybe I was not ambitious enough,” Smart told InDaily.
“I’ve not thought over what I’ve achieved in those 29 years, but I do sense the time has come to cut the umbilical cord. We did achieve a lot in my time as chief operating officer – no doubt the move to Adelaide Oval in 2014 was a fair feat; the entry to the AFLW in 2017 is something I always will be happy we achieved against the doubters; and the entry to eSports in 2017, not under-estimating our world championship success in China this year.”
But, as the questions from Koster proved this week, there is a significant element of doubt among the older Crows fans about Adelaide’s involvement in computer games when there is so much to be corrected with real football games at the AFL club that claimed its first wooden spoon this season.
“It is very hard to explain eSports to a fan base that might not watch YouTube or use Twitch,” Smart said. “It is very hard for many football fans to get their heads around it. But we are in touch with a massive global audience: this has brought the club sponsorship opportunities from companies that have no interest in putting money in the AFL game.
“We have created a cash-neutral business in two years. It delivers $1 million in sponsorship and has an independent valuation as a business.”
That valuation – that Adelaide has never declared publicly, not even to the curious fans at its annual members’ information meetings – would allow the Crows to gain borrowings that could be vital during the COVID pandemic when Adelaide wants to be among the five clubs free of financing from AFL headquarters in Melbourne.
“There are many key benefits from eSports, but they are challenging to explain (to those outside the gaming enterprise),” Smart said. “It is no different to any other non-football business an AFL club can take up to increase sponsorship, awareness and revenue.”
Smart says he will “walk away content with what I have provided the football club across 29 years”. The man who sought to enter state parliament as the Liberal candidate for the seat of Norwood in 2006 adds he has no plan for his next professional move, but “as you get older you realise you still have a lot of things to do”.
“I will continue to love footy and supporting the AFLW,” Smart said. “I will be passionate about eSports.”
Smart described the Adelaide Football Club as at a “dynamic point”.
“It is a place of change,” Smart said. “On the football field, there is a rebuild. Off the field, there is a restructure and uncertainty from COVID. Some people know when it is time to go – some don’t. I’ve chosen this to be my time.”
You can read news and insights from Michelangelo Rucci – SA’s most experienced and credible football writer – on Fridays in InDaily.
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