With the 2018 AFL season looming, Lia Ferguson has been immersed in one of the busiest times of her year.
As Brand and Marketing Coordinator for the Gold Coast Suns, Lia is devising and delivering strategies to ensure the Suns continue to grow in terms of identity, longevity and community support in what is an ultra-challenging sporting and business environment.
Lia joined the AFL’s 17th franchise in March 2014, during the final year of a Griffith University business degree majoring in Marketing and Human Resources.
“I took part in Griffith’s Industry Mentoring Program and was fortunate to be mentored by Kelly Ryan, the Suns’ former General Manager of Stadium, Consumer and Community. It gave me great guidance and insight into how a major sporting organisation works,” says Lia.
“It showed me how entities like the Gold Coast Suns are large but also intimate and intricate, with so many elements contributing to their overall operation.”
When a marketing position opened up at the Suns, Lia finished her Griffith degree while working part-time. Along the way she received the University Medal for Academic Achievement and was a three-time recipient of the Griffith Award for Academic Excellence.
Growing up in Adelaide, where she supported the Adelaide Crows – “of course, I’m now a Suns supporter through and through,” she says – Lia played AFL at school and has also lined up with the Burleigh Bombettes women’s team on the Gold Coast.
Her role at the Suns is a neat fit, although there are many challenges for a group striving to thrive in a non-traditional AFL market and against other factors unique to the region.
“Going to the footy isn’t as ingrained here on the Gold Coast as in the traditional markets down south,” says Lia. “If the weather’s nice here during winter, footy has to compete with other options like the beach, theme parks and other sports for people’s consideration.”
“Our aim is to market the Suns as both a sport and an overall entertainment experience, particularly to the non-traditional football fan, to families, and to those in the 25-35 age bracket who likely haven’t grown up with AFL.”
Outside the turnstiles, Lia puts her Griffith degree to work in other ways, most notably her small business oodle & co, which exemplifies Lia’s love of dogs by marketing dog-related homewares, accessories and activities.
“As the pet following on social media took off, I saw an opportunity to provide products for dog owners – bags, mugs, magnets, cushion covers and so on,” says Lia.
“That soon extended into other activities. Our Paws at the Park initiative is the Gold Coast’s first and largest dog community event. Aligned with the Animal Welfare League, this year we attracted 10,000 people, more than 80 market stalls and raised more than $5000 for the AWLQ.
“It’s going really well and we have plans to grow it even further, although my four-year-old cavoodle, Piper, is the real star. She already has 13,300 followers on Instagram.”