Sam Kerr: Changing the game off-field

Sam Kerr launching the new Chelsea F.C kit. (Picture: @ChelseaFCW/Twitter)

Sam Kerr’s form for club and country have seen her discussed as one of the best Australian footballers of all time. Off-field she has reached a level of media profile that makes her one of the biggest names in the game.

She has grown support in India due to her Kolkota heritage adding to her established fame in Australia and exploding popularity in Europe.

She has been on billboards for Nike, covers of Playstation games, and featured heavily in Chelsea’s new kit advertisements.

Adorning her trophy cabinet are two Espy awards from 2019 in the USA and Golden Boots from three continents. There also sits the Young Australian Of The Year recognition in 2018.

Add it all together and the question has to be asked: has any female footballer achieved this level of profile and commercial reach?

“Amongst Australian’s she’s a truly national figure,” James Begley, CEO of Pickstar said.

Pickstar is an online marketplace to connects stars with commercial opportunities in schools and businesses.

“AFL and rugby players are both state-specific…she’s dynamic, parochial, and provides a competitive edge,” Begley said.

Begley recalls that once she was recognized with Australia Day honors, her profile exploded.  This resulted in a massive increase in demand for appearances and speaking engagements.

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In the years since her brand has only grown.

“She has become a premium now because she’s not in Australia, there’s not as much accessibility,” Begley said.

Women’s football researcher and ESPN pundit Angela Christian-Wilkes says the rise of Kerr is part of a “perfect storm, in a good way.”

“Women’s sport had a moment in 2017, just as Kerr was coming back into form.

“Her contribution to the Matildas successful run and individual club form was the foundation, helped by improved vision around the game. But ultimately, it was her unfiltered persona that held our attention.”

Kerr is attractive to fans, detractors and sponsors largely due to her candid interviews and engaging social media posts.

Famously she told doubters to “suck on that one!” after a miracle win over Brazil in the World Cup. Begley agrees that it is a large part of her appeal.

“Sam provides a gritty, real competitive edge, she thrives when people are on her back.”

Kerr’s personality is an asset according to Christian-Wilkes.

“That spontaneity and humour brings more casual followers of the women’s game into the fold and draws eyes to her fantastic performances on the field,” she said.

Unfiltered and good at it

Any slip-ups or perceived errors in the media or online interactions need to be seen in context. It is a sport in the midst of a change to full professionalism.

“Women’s athletes are expected to contribute to the growth of their game by being on their best behaviour and representing their sport appropriately,” Christian-Wilkes reminds.

“There’s less wriggle room for mistakes, in a way.

“This means that those controversial moments on camera or online carry more weight. As women, athletes are then suddenly accountable for their code and sometimes even women’s sport as a whole.

“For me, those unfiltered ‘suck on that one’ moments are fun. They express the passion so many of us love in our favourite athletes.”

Begley agrees with this sentiment, “her realness increases her appeal.”

Raising the ceiling

Kerr’s profile is, to put it simply, good for the game as a whole.

Endorsements are often negotiated by precedent and adjusted according to current information. Her positioning as a Nike Athlete appears to be part of a change in how women’s football is marketed.

“What I have also found interesting in terms of Kerr’s media profile, is she doesn’t fit in with the type of femininity that has previously been preferred by federations, organizations, and brands to market women’s football,” Christian-Wilkes said.

As the sport continues to grow and professionalize, another superstar will likely emerge. Their popularity as a figurehead cannot be manufactured according to Christian-Wilkes.

“I expect we will have another player of the same profile as Sam Kerr,” she said.

“Kerr’s initial rise in 2017 as a personality felt organic and unforced. That will be important to consider moving forward.

“If we are to have another Kerr, I don’t think that person can be chosen by the media. The fans and followers will pick that person, and it’s on the media, brands, and organizations to follow suit.”

Begley sees the financial opportunities for Kerr and her successors to expand in the future.

“I think it’s an inevitability,” he predicts.

“They’re going to have a brand strategy and they will command the same commercial space.”

Equal opportunities are about options, Christian-Wilkes believes.

“It’s important to note that not every player necessarily wants to develop a media profile,” she said.

“The difference will be, as football grows, that there will (hopefully) be more and better opportunities to develop a media profile if a player chooses to do so.“

The Kerr brand is already global and still growing. Her geographic reach is beyond what any Australian player has enjoyed in the past.

On-field, she regularly achieves the impossible. Off-field, she has helped change the possibilities.

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