The National Basketball Association (NBA) is ramping up engagement in the continent after its charm offensive in Senegal showed proof of concept.
Seth Onyango, bird story agency
Africa’s fledging basketball league has received another shot in the arm after France and the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced a series of initiatives to prop up the game on the continent as the latter seeks to expand its global footprint and reach new fans.
Last week, France and the NBA said they would pump investments into basketball infrastructure in Africa, including building multipurpose facilities that can host Basketball Africa League (BAL) and NBA games.
French President Emmanuel Macron and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also unveiled a comprehensive plan to collaborate on various initiatives that will elevate basketball in France and Africa.
Under the deal, the NBA and Agence Française de Développement (AFD), France’s inclusive public development bank, will shell out funds to develop basketball infrastructure and youth basketball programs.
Paris and the NBA will form a working group of senior-level executives and coordinate with the French Basketball Federation (FFBB) to further develop these plans.
This will culminate with a formal partnership, which will be announced with the 2024 Summer Olympic and Paralympic games in Paris, where basketball will be featured.
For Africa, the earmarked investments could help the continent –– which has already produced elite players like Dikembe Mutombo, Luol Deng, Hakeem Olajuwon and Manute Bol –– continue to emerge as a source of talent and a growing market for the sport.
The NBA’s fresh basketball push in Africa comes on the back of global growth in the continent’s league.
Global corporates and franchises have bet on the continent’s rapid smartphone adoption and penetration of affordable internet to turbocharge their African growth model.
Africa-focused equity fund Helios Fairfax Partners Corp, which backs NBA’s entity on the continent, remains bullish that the mobile-first content marketing strategy will work.
“That investment in many respects encapsulates some of the points that we’ve been making about demographics and technology,” Helios chief executive officer Tope Lawani told Bloomberg last year.
NBA Africa is now valued at over 1 billion U.S. dollars as investors, including former U.S. President Barack Obama, join in as strategic partners.
In May 2021, the NBA announced the formation of NBA Africa as a new entity that will conduct the league’s business in Africa, including the Basketball Africa League (BAL) – a partnership between the NBA and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and the NBA’s first collaboration to operate a league outside of North America.
Although COVID-19 stymied its growth trajectory, Lawani remained upbeat that the changing profile of sports fans in Africa would propel NBA Africa to new heights.
According to Statista, at least 40 per cent of Africa’s population is aged 15 years and younger, and coupled with the growing penetration of affordable but powerful smartphones is expected to drive demand for mobile-based content.
“More affordable technology has made the continent a much more relevant market for the consumption of content and products,” Lawani told Bloomberg, adding that new technology brings varied and cheaper options to basketball fans keen to follow the NBA.
“Now, with smartphones, you don’t have to watch 90 minutes of a football game or all four quarters of a basketball game,” he said. You can watch highlights; you can watch delayed content; you can watch just goals on a smartphone at a price that you can afford.”
According to the Mobile Economy Report, 615 million people in Africa will subscribe to mobile services by 2025, equivalent to 50% of its population.
Africa is also expected to see an increase in sports streaming mobile applications, with the surge in smartphone penetration fuelling a dramatic shift in viewing behaviour on the continent.
bird story agency