The coming of NBA to Africa is bigger than basketball

Rwanda Energy Group represented the country at the revamped Africa Basketball League (AfroLeague) in Egypt, in February. Courtesy.

In February, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the International Basketball Federation announced a plan to launch the Basketball Africa League (BAL). The development marks the NBA’s first involvement in running a professional league outside North America.

Speaking at the Africa Luncheon during the All-Star weekend, NBA commissioner Adam Silver reaffirmed the league’s commitment in using basketball as an economic engine designed to create new opportunities in sports, media and technology across Africa.

It is a great opportunity for Africa’s elite players to showcase their talents and pave the way for the next generation. Off the court, the move will undoubtedly create a huge impact in ICT, entrepreneurship, investment and tourism, among others.  

In return, the NBA will benefit tremendously by unlocking the potential of this promising market. Exposing the game to the youth in Africa will grow the league’s audience significantly. Increased viewership will attract more sponsors and boost revenue. It’s a win-win partnership.

Rwanda is one of the countries that will take part and host some games during the inaugural NBA Basketball Africa League (BAL) next year. Courtesy.

The NBA is a media conglomerate currently flexing its reach to every corner of the world. Its digital assets include NBA TV,, NBA App and NBA League Pass. In addition, the world’s most popular basketball league has built a huge international social media audience, with more than 1.5 billion followers across multiple platforms used by the association, teams and players.  

Recently, the NBA Africa YouTube channel was rolled out. The channel has enabled Africa-based fans to stream live games and watch rebroadcasts on demand. The new platform will also be used to air a customised weekly magazine show and documentaries featuring current and former African players. Plans are underway to involve African content producers in a bid to empower the youth and give them a sense of ownership.

In recent years, the NBA has stepped up its efforts to penetrate into new markets. Preseason trips to China have become a norm. Regular season games are being played outside North America. The annual NBA Africa game has been taking place in Africa since 2015, and next year will see the first ever preseason games played in India.

NBA is building a global fan base. According to Forbes, more than 35 per cent of fans who visited last season came from outside North America. NBA League Pass is popular in 200 countries and games are broadcast across 215 countries in 50 languages.

Before the Washington Wizards faced the New York Knicks in London early this year, Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis told CNBC that he was in Europe to do business. It was a business trip. He admitted being more focused on endorsements and PR engagements than the game itself.   

There is a deliberate campaign to ensure the NBA reaches as many people as possible the world over and this time around, Africa is not left behind. As a matter of fact, establishing a strong presence in Africa seems to be on top of the NBA’s latest priorities.

After the Q & A session with President Paul Kagame during last month’s NBA Board of Governors’ Dinner in New York, Adam Silver shared some mind-boggling information.

By 2050, Africa will be home to a quarter of the world’s population. As far as the size of the market is concerned, the commissioner said, “The map we have been using distorts the true size of Africa. Geographically, Africa is larger than China, India, the United States, Japan and almost the entire Europe combined.” 

Every partner the NBA had spoken to about its coming to Africa wants to be on board. “Sign us up. We want to be part of this movement.”


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