Five AFL Creatives to look out for in 2023

April 5, 2023
9 mins
Five AFL Creatives to look out for in 2023

The AFL - Australian Football League is back to its brilliant best with another thrilling round of footy in the bag.

As the 2023 season heats up by the week, Sport Design Australia highlights five AFL creatives to keep an eye on this year!

James Southam

(Gold Coast SUNS) – Videographer

A passion for storytelling has taken him from Queensland skateparks to Hollywood blockbusters, but James Southam is at his creative best at the Gold Coast SUNS.

Though just eight months into his time with the AFL club, the young videographer has quickly realised the transformative power of sport, a theme more typically associated with traditional artforms such as film.

But after spending time on the sets of high-profile, international films, James found himself drawn to sport and the Gold Coast SUNS to chase his creative dreams.

“I believe so much in the power of sport and how it can transform people and bring happiness into their lives,” James said.

“Whether physically or mentally, people can be influenced so much by  the Australian spirit. We have a unique way of treating athletes in Australia, it’s a huge part of our culture and identity.

“I believe people can turn their lives around from a single story that gets put in front of them. Our job is to find that story and show as many people as possible.”

James discovered his calling while creating skating videos with his friends in high school. It led him all the way to a big break in the film industry, rubbing shoulders with some of Hollywood’s biggest names on the sets of Elvis, Young Rock and Thirteen Lives.

But burning out on-set, he realised he had lost touch with his true passion: storytelling.

Fast forward to now, and he is basking in his creativity with the SUNS.

James’ productions for the AFL club are headlined by two standout pieces which truly pull at the heartstrings: ‘Wadeye: More than a game’ and ‘SUNS sign Ryley Kemp No.39’.

For ‘Wadeye’, he travelled to remote Northern Territory with Jy Farrar to document a crime-stricken community coming together to embrace footy. The nine-minute production reiterated “the importance of sport in our country” for James.

‘Ryley Kemp’ saw he and the SUNS shine a light on a young boy suffering from a life-threatening disease, as the club gave him the best day ever.

“Regardless of what happens on the field, the club will always have some remarkable moments around it, and it is up to our team to capitalise on them,” he said.

“It is incredible the effect an AFL team has on our football, local and national communities.”

Jacob Gaynor

(GWS GIANTS) – Social Media Producer

It is one thing to move 300 kilometres from home to chase your dream job, but making it worthwhile is another… Jacob Gaynor of the GWS GIANTS has done both.

The ACT local relocated to Sydney in 2019 after the AFL caught wind of his work with the Canberra Demons, and has since spent the last two years with GWS. His impact has been evident, with the GIANTS earning a nomination for best coverage of sport by a club or organisation by the Australian Institute Of Sport.

Accolades aside, the GIANTS boast one of the AFL’s most unique social media portfolios, ripe with player access, comedic value, pop culture references and premium quality (read: Social media is meant to be fun!).

“My focus is to increase engagement and exposure of the GIANTS brand on social media by creating content that is exciting, new and edgy,” Jacob explains.

“The core purpose being that the GIANTS are a catalyst for a new way of engaging people on social media in Australia.”

During the 2022 NAB AFL Draft, the Sydney Swans (The GIANTS’ biggest rival) made a shock bid on a GIANTS Academy prospect, hoping to convince the GIANTS to give up valuable draft collateral.

Later that night, they decided to poke some fun at Sydney’s ill-fated attempt to steal a GIANTS product and disrupt the draft order.

It is a simple formula, but one which requires a great understanding of both the sporting and creative content worlds.

GIANTS Head of Media, Communications and Content, Alison Zell praised the role Jacob has played in growing the young club’s audience through innovative content.

“Jacob wants our content to bring people inside our club, to get to know who we are and what we stand for – but he also likes to challenge and disrupt” she said.

“It’s Jacob’s role to look for opportunities to build our profile and brand; to cut through beyond just our hardcore fanbase and engage a wider audience, which he does through looking to jump on trends quickly, incorporate pop culture references in a variety of mediums and engage in banter wherever possible.”

Samantha McLaurin

(Melbourne Football Club) – Digital Video Producer

Picture this: you are the Video Producer for an AFL club chasing its first flag in 57 years, and tasked with connecting the team to its fans from a different state on Grand Final day amid Melbourne’s COVID crisis. No pressure, hey?

This is the situation Samantha McLaurin found herself in at Melbourne Football Club in 2021.

The result: a six-part mini documentary series telling the tale of Melbourne’s historic Premiership triumph at the Gabba.

“It was important for us to connect the fans to the stories from the Grand Final, particularly with it not being played on our home turf of the MCG,” she said.

“It was unforgettable being able to create a series that not only gives fans that insight but will remain part of the club’s history for years to come.”

Sam has continued to provide thrilling content for Melbourne fans in the years since, from the club’s maiden AFLW Premiership to a cultural immersion program in Alice Springs.

She packed up her life in hometown Perth to join the Demons, but it is safe to say the move has not disappointed.

“It was daunting to move my whole life across the country for a job, but I’ve been lucky to be welcomed by the club with open arms,” she said.

“These past three years I’ve had the opportunity to create content that gives fans a reason to put on the scarf.

“Being part of three Premierships at the club has been a life-changing experience and I’m so proud to belong to an organisation like the Melbourne Football Club.”

With Melbourne tipped to be in the running for another flag, we can expect big things from Sam in 2023. The club’s General Manager – Marketing & Digital, Libby Blampied applauded Sam’s dedication to delivering for the Demons faithful.

“Sami has such a strong appreciation for the role the club plays in people’s lives,” she said.

“It’s clear this desire to connect fans with the club and make them feel proud drives a lot of her decision-making.”

Owen Davies

(West Coast Eagles) – Senior Graphic Designer

This story is one which plenty of sports creatives can relate to; from unpaid work, to learning on the fly, and operating as a one-man media team, Owen Davies has been in the trenches of content creation.

Owen is a self-taught designer, leaning on YouTube tutorials and a passion for sports content to drive his development. After years of hospitality work, study and overseas travel, he took the leap to become professional via the WAFL, beginning with an unpaid role at Subiaco Football Club and then a wide-ranging job with Peel Thunder.

This journey led him to the Senior Graphic Designer role at West Coast Eagles, where he has been producing ground-breaking work; most notably, last year’s celebration of the retiring Josh Kennedy.

“It felt like every week I was creating something new for Josh!”, he said.

“I made a time lapse graphic for his record goals total, an Instagram career timeline, a trading card-style design for his testimonial dinner and even learned how to make a cartoon face mask for his last game, which actually got picked up and used in the state newspaper.

“The reasons this project was my favourite was the scope of how far it was able to reach and the fact we got to do something different. It was a pretty surreal that a design I created was featured so heavily in his farewell game.”

Owen hopes to continue pushing boundaries in 2023, with plenty of exciting ideas on the agenda.

“Social media-wise, I’d love to incorporate some animation into some of our design work,” he said.

“Personally, I would love to do a time-lapse of a particular project as I did for one of the many, many Josh Kennedy graphic I made last year which turned out good.

“Internally, we still have a lot of blank walls that we need to create some murals and designs for, so I’m looking forward to digging into that.”

Aiden Tilley

(Essendon Football Club) – Digital Content Creator

Stepping out of your comfort zone and adapting to your surroundings is paramount in the world of content, and Aiden Tilley is testament to this.

After transferring university degrees thrice, moving from South Australia to Melbourne, switching roles and adjusting to unfamiliar responsibilities, Aiden is settling into life as Digital Content Creator at the Essendon Football Club with a big future ahead of him.

“It was a bit of a slog,” he said of his path to Essendon.

“I changed degrees three times and finally landed on communications and media. I went hard on graphic design in my free time, growing my Instagram page as I improved. I also spent time with SANFL clubs Sturt and Central District, volunteering my skills.

“From there, my current manager reached out to me about this opportunity with Essendon and I took a chance on myself. I moved interstate on a four-month contract, really betting on myself that I could make things work and that this was my opportunity to kickstart my career.”

A graphic designer by qualification, Aiden has broadened his horizons by leaning into photography, journalism, website management and vertical video production at Essendon.

This chameleon-like approach to content creation has accelerated his career and allowed him to build an impressive portfolio of various mediums.

Aiden’s expertise in graphic design came to the fore in a Stranger Things-themed re-signing announcement last June. He shapeshifted from designer to photographer later in the year as he was on hand to capture the emotion of Essendon’s first AFLW win, a moment etched in club history.

“Aiden has a real willingness to listen and try all different types of things as he tries to get better every day,” said Essendon Digital Agency Manager, Oran Aziz.

“He has worked really had to get to where he is today. He packed up his life in South Australia and took a chance here at Essendon and we’re super glad he did.”

Super excited to see what these creatives produce this season! Good luck 🙌🏻

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