How S.A. Soccer Publisher Morphed into a Powerful Research Company
Forget multinational research companies and their armies of number crunchers. If you’re looking to find out what’s really going on – in South African homes, on sports fields and in the streets, that is – look no further than one of SA’s most beloved sports publishers. Soccer Laduma, which started life as a weekly newspaper in 1997, has evolved from a publishing darling into a potent research platform. Through its recently formalised Supporters Club arm, Soccer Laduma allows brands and businesses to gain access to the treasure trove of data the publisher collates from its massive online and offline community. For a price, that is. With the Supporters Club nearing 700 branches nationwide, paired with a huge online following, it is an opportunity that brands and businesses surely find difficult to resist.
So how did a small sports publication grow up into such a powerful entity?
Ask & Listen
According to Soccer Laduma’s founder and editorial director, Peter du Toit, the key to building such a large and loyal community – which is the core element of Soccer Laduma’s success – was simply learning to listen.
“When I started Soccer Laduma 18 years ago, there wasn’t information on the ‘black market’,” he explains. “Even though I felt I knew about the market – as an ex-player, I knew I had to do research. And the most simple research proved to be the best and most important research: which is to ask and listen.”
He adds: “You need to ask in such a way that you’re not predetermining the answer…that you leave a space to hear what you don’t know – not what you do know, and that’s been a critical factor for us.”
With this approach, du Toit encouraged constant reader feedback and input, and quickly created a scenario in which letters and faxes (this was pre-digital boom) were pouring in.
“From day one, our readers were participating in content creation, and participating in what they wanted to see in the publication,” says du Toit. “In interviews and articles, we actually used the names of our readers who were asking the questions…and the player would answer directly to the reader. We were the first to ever do this, and we still do it.”
When the consumer and business world made the transition to digital, Soccer Laduma’s loyal community skyrocketed, with readers now able to provide instant feedback and input.
“The feedback multiplied to such an extent that we almost couldn’t cope,” remarks du Toit.
This is unsurprising, given how quickly the Soccer Laduma audience had grown. According to recent Effective Measure stats, Soccer Laduma attracts 1 million unique browsers and 28 million page impressions on mobile per month, and 252 776 unique browsers and 4 million page impressions per month on the web. The publisher also has over 200 000 Twitter followers and almost a million likes on Facebook.
Looking for Help
At some point along this remarkable journey, says du Toit, readers ‘came to us for help’. Local soccer fans felt that the game was becoming inaccessible to them; they felt disconnected from the sport they loved, and disempowered.
Yet because fans not only trusted Soccer Laduma but also recognised the tremendous power it wielded as publisher, fan leaders saw an opportunity to finally be heard. Key community figures approached du Toit, and soon a solution had been found: the formation of the Soccer Laduma Supporters Club. The Supporters Club soon formed branches around the country, each with appointed chair people and Treasurers, with fans able to join either online or in person. With Soccer Laduma, feedback and insights from these branches was continually channeled to the very highest level of leadership in sports, business and industry.
“At some point, a miracle happened,” says du Toit. “Fans came to us with problems outside of soccer…problems in industries, such as banking. What naturally developed from this was Soccer Laduma research. And we soon realised that businesses really wanted and needed our information and data.”
As long as the members of the Supporters Club get remunerated for their input and insights in some way, du Toit says he is happy for brands and businesses to get this much-needed access.