Raheem Sterling has the potential to be a global megabrand, but needs to invest more time "getting involved into public life".
That’s the verdict of PRWeek's editor-in-chief Danny Rogers, who told the BBC's Beyond Today podcast that Sterling is well positioned to become the biggest English football brand since David Beckham.
The former Manchester United winger, one of the outstanding English footballers of his generation, was just as famous for his celebrity off the pitch, marrying former Spice Girl and fashion designer Victoria Adams, working as an ambassador for Unicef and fronting London’s winning Olympic Games bid.
At his peak, Beckham was arguably the world’s most famous sports star, despite never being recognised as the world’s best footballer.
Rogers said Sterling has the potential to become a megabrand, if he so chooses – but needs to do more to raise his profile beyond football.
"He did, I understand, make a major contribution after the Grenfell fire," Rogers said. "He obviously cares about big issues, so I think he needs to get possibly more charity involvement, perhaps launch a foundation and take a stand on some issues as an ambassador."
Beckham had the advantage of "linking up" with Victoria when the pair were fairly young, which formed one of the sports and entertainment world's leading power couples.
Sterling's 'good story'
Rogers believes Sterling's own life story provides a compelling platform for building a brand narrative.
"All great stories, great brands, are narratives, and some of the greatest stories are [about] overcoming adversity. We love our heroes to be a bit flawed," Rogers said.
"Raheem has had a few lows and some problems, not least the controversy around his gun tattoo unveiled in the 2018 World Cup. But it's how you react that wins people over."
Sterling had a difficult upbringing. Born in Jamaica, when he was two years old his absent father was killed, and his family immigrated to the UK.
For much of his career Sterling has had to endure a hostile tabloid press, but in recent seasons he has overcome this animosity with outstanding performances on the pitch.
"It's a good story in the sense that this is a guy who didn't have any privileges and yet he's reached the peak of his game and is now taking a stand on big issues," Rogers added.
"Because racism has become a real issue in sport and in society, somebody who can challenge the unfairness can become a real role model for young people."
Dan Tunna, a sports PR consultant, said Sterling is "arguably the most important and influential sportsperson in Britain today" due to his success at Manchester City and his readiness to speak out on race issues and the portrayal of black players in the media.
"This stance has made him an unofficial spokesperson for the current generation of footballers," Tunna said.
"There is no doubt that athletes who are willing to speak and act on wider societal issues – such as Sterling, Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe – are able to resonate with mainstream audiences, which adds significantly to their brand value.
"Younger demographics identify with truth and transparency, so for sportspeople looking to build their profile it has never been more important to display a social conscience."
Listen to Beyond Today: Raheem Sterling: is he the next Beckham?