Ellyse Perry in a different guise. Photo: Supplied
When a British magazine ranked Ellyse Perry as Australia's most marketable athlete, she and her manager ''had a bit of a laugh''.
Until about 18 months ago, Andrew Fraser was constantly frustrated in his attempts to make potential sponsors understand why his young client - who played two sports for her country and played them exceptionally well - was worth having on their books.
''It frustrated the crap out of me trying to explain what a wonderful athlete she was, not just for women's sport but Australian sport. It was a battle for the first three years,'' said Fraser.
Ellyse Perry says she is just grateful to have the chance to bat higher in the order. Photo: Getty Images
''I represent a few of the male cricketers as well [including fast bowler Mitchell Starc] and you don't expect equal commercial endorsements because you have to understand differences in terms of broadcasts and all that, but it was a real struggle. Probably the last 18 months have been really good. We have got some wonderful commercial partners that do appreciate who she is and the values she represents.''
Perry has always been impressive, making her international debut in cricket before turning 17, spearing a ball into the net for the Matildas at the soccer World Cup and bowling Australia to victory on a broken foot at the 50-over cricket World Cup in India last year.
Her latest heroics in the women's Ashes have continued Australia's awakening to the 23-year-old, but another expert in sports marketing and sponsorship believes she is still under-valued for her achievements. Perry leads Australia for runs and wickets in the series against England, and calmly combined with Erin Osborne to bat the Southern Stars to a famous win in Hobart on Sunday with 90 not out from 95 balls.
Perry in action in the W-League. Photo: Wolter Peeters WLP
''The public's knowledge of her is still limited and that is symptomatic of women's sport generally. You've got lower broadcast rights, so fewer people see the sport, lower attendance, less sponsorship, less promotion,'' said Jack Watts, the managing director of Bastion EBA, a company that researches and manages sponsorship investments.
''But women's sport does have an enormous opportunity. You need a circuit-breaker like an Ellyse Perry who can go mainstream and shine the spotlight on women's sport. Secondly, brands are starting to realise that women's sport allows them to reach the key decision-makers in so many households.''
Perry is backed by Commonwealth Bank, adidas, Red Bull, Jockey, Toyota and the SCG Trust, and has a media contract with Fox Sports. Fraser says his experience with Perry suggests it takes longer for female athletes to be recognised, although he also represents Jessica Watson, who attracted huge sponsor support when she became the youngest person to sail non-stop and unassisted around the world.
Sportspro, the magazine that last year rated Perry as Australia's most marketable athlete (and No.36 globally) had Brazilian soccer sensation Neymar at No.1. It took into account value for money, so a sponsor might get better bang for its buck investing $100,000 in Perry than $1 million in a bigger star. ''We had a bit of a laugh about it, but it was wonderful for Ellyse to be acknowledged on that global stage,'' Fraser said.
Perry says she is just grateful to have the chance to bat higher in the order - she has always been a clean-hitting batter as well as a fast bowler - and still enjoys juggling both sports even though Fraser told her when she was 17 that she wouldn't be able to manage it forever. ''I will keep going the way I have been going hopefully and keep enjoying both sports,'' said Perry, who has W-League finals on after the Ashes. ''The hardest part is where there is a clash but the main reason I have kept playing both is I enjoy it.''
The Southern Stars must win all three Twenty20 internationals against England to regain the Ashes, starting with the curtain-raiser to the men's game in Hobart on Wednesday.