Building a huge basketball fan base in Africa is key to enticing sponsors

The proposed Kigali Arena, a 10,000-seat modern facility, will be one of the venues to host games of the eagerly awaited Basketball Africa League. Emmanuel Kwizera

The Basketball Africa League (BAL), scheduled to be launched early next year, will feature 12 teams from nine countries. Plans are underway to stage qualification tournaments.

It is through the qualifiers that participating teams from Rwanda, Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia will be determined.

Efforts to mobilise resources needed to make the game accessible to as many Africa-based fans as possible are underway. Initiatives to train players, coaches and referees are in the pipeline too. In preparation for tip off, a number of host countries are investing in modern infrastructure such as the state-of-the-art Kigali Arena that is due to be completed this month.

Several partners have already reached out to the NBA expressing interest in becoming part of this movement. Pepsi and Nike’s affiliate, Brand Jordan, are reportedly among them. The continental league is also expected to attract attention from companies that are already established in Africa. Organisers are looking at the possibility of tapping into the pool of more than 400 companies in Africa that generate more than 1 billion dollars annually.

Building an extensive fan base in Africa is key in attracting sponsors. The rapid growth of the middle class and favourable demographic projections can be leveraged to establish mutually beneficial partnerships with multinational corporations seeking to expand visibility of their products and services.  

The new Pan African league will be co-managed by the NBA and the sport’s global governing body, FIBA. Although NBA’s involvement will be the first of its kind outside North America, its partnership with FIBA is not new. The two bodies have been running a joint basketball development and community outreach programme dubbed Basketball Without Borders (BWB) since 2001.   

The BAL launch will strengthen the NBA’s presence in Africa, building on the existing skills development and youth empowerment programmes.

Headed by Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA Africa offers an exciting proposition to all partners looking for a global sports franchise that is deepening its roots in Africa. The popularity of the NBA as a brand and its growing number of African stars will help potential partners to penetrate into this promising market. 

The NBA Africa game has been taking place in Africa every summer since 2015. This is an annual exhibition game between Team Africa and Team World. Team Africa comprises of African players and those with African descents. Team World on the other hand is made up of an assortment of players from the United States and other countries outside Africa.

During this annual trip, members of the NBA family spend a few days participating in the BWB camps, hosting clinics and taking part in the NBA Cares events. By doing so, they establish a strong bond with local communities and encourage kids to dream big.

NBA players, coaches and legends do more than basketball related activities while visiting Africa. In 2017 for example, the NBA helped to build homes for the destitute members of the local communities in South Africa through its partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

Currently, there are about 40 NBA players with African ties. With the latest strides in accelerating the growth of the game in Africa, the number of Africans in the NBA will undoubtedly multiply in the future.

Lately, we have seen more scouting and development programmes taking place on the African soil. These include the Junior NBA championships and Giants of Africa camps.

In a bid to groom Africa’s talents and nurture the next generation of leaders in Africa, the NBA partnered with SEED (Sports for Education and Economic Development) to set up the NBA Academy in Senegal. At the academy, top African prospects, including Rwandan youngster, Sano Rutatika, are working hard to pursue their academic and basketball aspirations under the guidance of world-class trainers.

As the continent warms up for its first cross-border professional league, more support is coming. Former US President Barack Obama will play a role, in a capacity that is yet to be specified.

“I have always loved basketball because it’s about building a team that’s equal to or more than the sum of its parts. Glad to see this expansion into Africa because for a rising continent, this can be about a lot more than what happens on the court,” he tweeted after the announcement.