Connecting passion with purpose

Associate Professor Sarah Kelly from The University of Queensland Business School presenting at a lunch event

"If you can do what you love and find your purpose, you'll always be happy."  

Sports marketing expert from The University of Queensland Business School, Associate Professor Sarah Jane Kelly, shares how a chance meeting during her MBA enabled her to turn her passion into a career.

I've always been what you'd call 'sports mad'. I grew up here in Brisbane playing the typical Aussie childhood sports like netball and swimming; today I'm a keen stand-up paddleboarder and runner. I find sports relaxing, but I also love that they are a great equaliser that can cross cultural divides and act as an agent for social change.

I started my career as a corporate lawyer after completing my undergraduate degree in Commerce and Law from The University of Queensland (UQ). However, when I commenced my UQ MBA in 2002, my career path took an unexpected change. I did some courses with a visiting Marketing Professor from the United States who specialised in sports marketing and was inspired. Working with her really encouraged me to see how I could combine my passion for sports with a career.

I went on to do further studies in sports marketing and psychology, changing my career path completely to become an academic at UQ Business School in the fields of marketing and law, with a focus on sports. 

Associate Professor Sarah Kelly presenting at a Queensland Futures Institute event on behalf of The University of Queensland Business School

My research is quite varied across my three disciplines of marketing, law and psychology; but there are many ways these fields come together. When it comes to my marketing research, such as looking at customer experience and brand imitation and loyalties, there are definitely elements of law and psychology involved too.

I am a nerd for everything to do with numbers, and love looking at the role data and analytics play in sports – I consult with lots of sporting organisations to do just that. One area that people find particularly interesting is my research into sports scandals. This topic also has marketing, legal and psychological consequences because we look up to our sports stars so much in Australia – they capture public attention.

From doping to match-fixing and scandalous behaviour, when our sports stars make very public mistakes it can have far-reaching impacts. When you delve into these stories they can be stranger than fiction, I often tell my students they are more engaging than anything you could watch on Netflix.

Sarah Kelly co-presenting at a Brisbane Lions event

Currently, I am looking at the impact of the rise of esports, organised tournaments and competitions in online gaming. It's a rapidly growing field, and for Millennials it has become one of the most popular forms of entertainment. 

Esports brings a wealth of opportunities, from marketing and commercialisation to possibly new career options, but it also has risks. The World Health Organization recently added online gaming to its list of serious addictions alongside alcohol and drugs – so we need to think about both sides of the equation, and make sure we can realise the opportunities without harmful consequences.

Alongside my research, I also work with a number of local and national organisations, including Tourism and Events Queensland as a Board Member, and the Brisbane Lions AFL Football Club as the Deputy Chair. I am really passionate about promoting women's sports in particular, and love to support them through my professional engagements, but also as a spectator and avid fan. 

Sarah Kelly wearing a Brisbane Lions AFL polo and holding a ball in an oval

Image by John Glass for The Courier Mail

Image by John Glass for The Courier Mail

I truly believe sports can help change lives and communities. I am on the board of Wandering Warriors, a charity that helps wounded service men and women to find employment and engage with life after service. Through initiatives like the Invictus Games, sports play an important role in building social connections and enhancing the lives of our injured service people. 

You often hear it said that if you can do what you love and have a bigger purpose, you'll always be happy – and I think that rings true for me. Working in the sports industry and with a great range of organisations is fantastic, but one of my other great loves is teaching, and I get to do that every day.

Working at UQ Business School, I get to spend my days alongside some of the brightest and most interesting people you can imagine, to teach the next generation of leaders.  I see something really special in today's students – a spark and activism that creates a real sense of optimism and hope for the future.

Sarah Kelly presenting at an event for The University of Queensland
Associate Professor Sarah Kelly presenting at a UQ event
"This is a generation that are driven by their passions and I hope, like me, they are able to find a path to combine what they love with what they do and find their bigger purpose."
Sarah Kelly on a hike wearing a Brisbane Lions cap.

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