“I HAVE absolutely been in love with football since the age of seven,” says Peter du Toit, owner of Soccer Laduma, one of the largest football newspapers in the world.

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This passion for the sport led him to pursue a career as a professional footballer in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It was an experience that opened his eyes to a world beyond his own: he became a pro just as the then white and black soccer leagues were merging. By playing inside townships he saw a side of the country he had never been exposed to. “I saw the real SA,” he says.

But as his career was about to take off, Du Toit broke his leg, which just about scuttled his football dreams. While waiting for it to heal, he began selling micro PCs. The devices were vastly underpowered by today’s standards but back in the early 1980s, they were regarded as hi-tech. “It came with C64 floppy disks. It was revolutionary at the time.”

His life took a surprising turn when his brother Gerry used the PCs to develop the first technical trading system for monitoring share movements on the JSE. The former footballer took up selling these systems and also trading shares until he eventually sold his company in 1993.

Looking back, Du Toit is still a little shocked by the arbitrary nature of financial regulations back then. He needed a licence to trade shares, but to do that he required four people to vouch for him. The next step was a notification in the mail saying he was now an “approved fund manager and a registered financial institution”.

After he sold the company he took a few years off, but by 1997 Du Toit was ready to start a new venture. This time, he wanted to reconnect with football and decided to start Soccer Laduma.

At the time, he knew nothing about publishing, which may have been a good thing as it guaranteed that he would do things differently from others.

One of the ways in which he differed from other publications was his intention to “make the reader the boss”. If readers suggested changes, he would make them. He still answers calls from readers and even fields more calls from them than from advertisers.

His commitment to this belief is so great that he got rid of his journalists and replaced them with some of the newspaper’s most prolific letter-writers. “What journalists lack is the passion of the fans.”

Du Toit says this connection to the fans is Soccer Laduma’s greatest asset. This is why, when digital media started to threaten print houses, he did not see it as a threat but as an opportunity to get to know the fans better.

This strategy has paid off. Soccer Laduma has a weekly print circulation of over 3 26 000, 1,31m followers on Facebook and 32,4m pageviews to its website. Du Toit says its closeness to its readers is the reason it is still seeing an increase in readers on both digital and print platforms.

This is in marked contrast to the decline of print over the past few years. About 10 years ago Soccer Laduma was about the tenth largest football magazine in the world. Now it is second or third; not because it has grown rapidly but because the others have lost readers.

Though his company is in a good space, Du Toit is not sitting on his hands. He is launching LadumaConnect, an online jobs portal that will match applicants with prospective employees.

This article was published in Financial Mail on the 5 November 2015 

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