Bruce Davidson is one person who has to be credited with bringing remarkable commercial development to a formerly unloved environment known as women’s sport in South Africa.
He has helped lay the foundation of success for our female athletes, and continues to make a positive impact on the women’s game.
Sport is in Bruce’s blood. He grew up with it around him, with his mom being a top badminton player, and then a provincial bowler. As a young sports agent, Bruce was driven to help women’s sport grow and become recognised. He made major inroads in this regard, and over the past 12 years has been at the forefront of sport sponsorship in women’s sport.
Bruce’s work with supermarket giant SPAR is well documented and it has laid the foundation for other major sponsors to throw their weight behind women’s sport.
He has managed some of the biggest sporting names in the business including tennis legend Amanda Coetzer, soccer legends Marks Maponyane and Doctor Khumalo.
Bruce initiated the SPAR Grand Prix with athletics legend Ian Laxton, which sees professional athletes compete for the annual SPAR Grand Prix prize based on the number of points they have accumulated throughout the five races held around the country.
Speaking to gsport about SPAR’s relationship with Bruce, SPAR Sponsorships Manager Belinda Nel said: “Bruce has played such an important role in sponsorships within the SPAR Group, for the past 19 years. Bruce has been there right from the inception of sponsorships, building bridges for us during the years with a lot of sporting bodies, most of whom we have retained friendships with after all these years.
“He is so enthusiastic and passionate about what he does and he bends over backwards for clients and sporting bodies alike. His ideas are sometimes whacky, and off the wall, but spending a lot of time with the younger players seems to have rubbed off on him, hence we are willing to entertain his ideas!
“Having said that, Bruce is very professional and credible and it is an absolute pleasure having him as our sponsorship consultant at The SPAR Group and look forward to continuing our work with him.”
Bruce took time from his hectic schedule to speak to gsport about his passion for women’s sport, his career highlights and his advice for aspiring media and communication specialists.
Bruce, where does your passion for women’s sport come from?
My late mom was a top badminton player and then a provincial bowler and I think that hanging around courts and bowling greens sparked the interest.
Both badminton and bowls were small sporting codes, played by very passionate women. In bowls my mom did well and I got to know the top South African bowlers.
They were desperate to turn professional and I was inspired to help them as a young aspiring sports agent and convinced supermarket giant SPAR to invest into bowls and my idea presented to SPAR based on a community driven tournament, which moved to district, regional and then national level was adopted and the bowling women were given their first big break into major sponsorship.
During this time I was approached by Amanda Coetzer to manage her, and I think my involvement with Amanda – in a sport where women are so recognised – truly sparked the passion.
I was responsible for negotiating the present SPAR sponsorship of netball, which has been in place for 12 years and was very involved with the SPAR sponsorship of women’s hockey, bowls and tennis. Together with Ian Laxton, we initiated the SPAR Grand Prix.
These were major sponsorships for SPAR, and we created the idea that SPAR was the biggest supporter and sponsors of women’s sport in South Africa.
That was their strategy but lately things have changed with their sponsorship of Amazulu and their decision to cancel their sponsorship of women’s hockey, bowls and tennis. They have focused their funds into netball, as it’s the biggest sporting code for women in the country, and also into their five SPAR challenge races and the SPAR Grand Prix linked to the races.
As SPAR’s sponsorship consultant you can imagine how busy we are. I am also responsible for the global Nike Junior Tour, an initiative by Nike to scout and develop junior players in the under 12 and 14 age groups around the world. Some of the best women tennis players on the WTA tour are protégés of the Nike Junior Tour.
Tell us more about BLD Communications?
The BLD Group came into being in 1995 when my wife Linda and I started a sports management, media, public relations and entertainment consultancy in Durban.
The company, then in its infancy, was known as BLD Enterprises and had supermarket giants SPAR and international sports goods manufacturers Dunlop Slazenger (later Dunslaz distributors now super brands) as clients.
It was only in 1996 after the acquisition of a new account with MTN, that BLD relocated to Johannesburg. With the substantial growth in business BLD enterprises was restructured and the BLD group of companies, a group of different divisions individually specialising in sports, media, public relations and entertainment was formed.
We aim to offer our clients an ultra-professional service and to assist federations and corporates understand the importance of good communication, sound public relations and effective sponsorship investment and management.
You have extensive experience across various sporting codes, what have been some of your major career highlights over the years?
There have been a few but starting off managing athletes at the peak of their careers to the likes of Amanda Coetzer, Jeff Coetzee, James Small, Marks Maponyane, Philemon “Chippa” Masinga, Doctor Khumalo, Pieter Muller rate up there.
Working with Franco Barocas on the challenges when Steffi Graf and Anna Kournikova came to South Africa to play Amanda Coetzer in sold out matches, the MTN challenge which saw top 20 women tennis players battle at the Coca Cola Dome, the successful SA Tennis Opens held at Montecasino and operating the media office of Wimbledon for 10 years are up there.
Then managing the global Nike Junior Tour since 2000 and directing and promoting the Nike Junior Tour International Masters each year has been a real highlight. Rafael Nadal was an under-12 Nike Junior Tour winner and I have worked with Rafa since those early days. Our Masters has been organised by BLD in exotic locations like the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Sun City amongst others, which has been most rewarding.
How can we raise the profile of women in sport?
It’s a tall order as it’s a combination of a few elements. We need to get more sponsorship and investment into women’s sport. With good funding so much is possible. We also need to change the mindset of sports fans and sports lovers.
They need to know that women’s sports are as exciting as men’s sports and in many cases offer so much more. Then media need to give more space, airtime and energy to women’s sports. This combination of more funding, education and exposure will raise the profile of women in sport.
Previous Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile was passionate about women’s sport and did a lot to promote it. When Minister Mbalula took over from minister Stofile he said that in netball for instance he gave Minister Mbalula a “gift” and made Minister Mbalula promise him he would take care of his “netball girls”.
I think that was the seed sown and I must say the energy and support Minister Mbalula has given women’s sport is commendable. He wants to do more, is committed to doing more and the launch of the Diamond Netball Challenge is an indication of that commitment.
What is your advice to those keen to get involved in the field of media and communication?
You need to have a real passion for what you are doing and also you need to be totally committed to what you are doing. Media and communication is hard work, very competitive and you need to be strong and creative to succeed well.
There are a lot of “PR” people around but very few “real good effective PR people” around. PR is becoming a very important part of business. In fact PR is slowly taking over from advertising and more and more advertising agencies are incorporating PR into their services in house.
So as much as there is plenty of opportunity in the media and communication fields only the best will make a good living from it. The secret of good media and communication is attention to detail, to be honest, service levels high at all times, creative and persistent and always go the extra mile.
What is your advice to federations and women athletes themselves in terms of building their brands?
Nothing comes easy in the tough and challenging world we live in. It’s a hard and competitive world out there. You need to really pr yourself and make sure you have a good image in the market place. Sponsors and investors like to be associated with positive energy and good image as well as success. Federations need to be professional and clean cut and need to offer their sponsors and members the best services.
Federations also need to surround themselves with good, solid and sound people and consultants, staff and advisors and board members. Federations need to really take care of their members, as they are the backbone of their code. Women athletes need to be proud in who and what they are. They need to really walk tall so that they can be a force, recognised in what has been and is still a male dominated sport world.
Most of my dealings have been with tennis players. But tennis players are globally influential so in no particular order Billie Jean King has always inspired me for what she did for women’s sport through tennis. She is an inspiration and the champion of women’s sport…. An amazing woman. Serena Williams is always inspirational and what she and Venus have done for tennis and black women’s sport in particular is commendable.
Steffi Graf for being the ultimate professional. Maria Sharapova for being able to balance the glitz and the glamour with her on court efforts. Being the most photographed woman in the world and still able to be the number 1 player in the world is a feat. And locally Penny Heyns for her incredible efforts in the pool and for being such a champion of the promotion of women’s sports and regardless of what anyone says, today’s swimming success is only thanks to Penny.
What makes you proud to be South African?
I love the diversity of our culture, the beauty of our land and the passion of our people
What Is your greatest ambition?
To be a fabulous husband, best ever family man and inspirational loving father and through all my hard work to inspire new talent so that one day they can continue where i left off and do what I love doing better.