While the specifics of a marquee player’s role differs depending on the sport and the situation, a marquee player is always expected to deliver both on and off the field.
On the field they are expected to perform at a level above that of the regular players in their competition. To be able to score goals, tries or take huge marks. To do the unbelievable. To inspire.
Off the field, the marquee is expected to raise the profile of both the club and often the game as a whole. To be able to engage kids and perform clinics. To give a name to an otherwise faceless sport.
In Australia different sports need marquees and for different reasons.
Football is a sport which has international appeal but not as much domestic appeal. Most people would know Manchester United and also who Ronaldo is. The spread of the A-League continues, but not many punters could name names in most A-League teams. The game is only just attracting that celebrity feel with Heskey, ADP, Ono.
Football needs marquee players to lift the profile of both the game and the clubs. With the A-League in its infancy this is a good strategy and players the calibre of Del Piero are worth every penny.
In rugby league, marquees are not needed for NRL teams. They already have the fan-base and most people know the game well enough to rattle off the names of plenty of players if asked. Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater are already household names.
In the AFL the same applies. In the AFL states the game is already a religion and players god-like figures. Marquees are already a dime a dozen, even if they don’t know it.
Except when expansion comes into the picture. In the expanding markets of Sydney and Gold Coast a marquee is definitely an advantage.
AFL superstars like Gary Ablett are excellent marquees but the AFL looked even further with the signing of big names from the popular rival code. Karmichael Hunt has proven his worth both on and off the field, while Israel Folau’s worth as a marquee is highly debatable.
Super Rugby, while sometimes seen as the poor cousin of rugby league, is still in its infancy. Expansion teams in the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels have utilised marquee players which have been highly valuable. Nathan Sharpe lifted the profile of the Western Force in its infancy.
So while marquees are an essential part of any expansion or establishment phase of a sport or a club, their worth to established sports and clubs is limited.