NBA's big guns shift focus on 'fertile Africa'

23 February 2014 - 02:01 By Thekiso Anthony Lefifi

The African continent is the next National Basketball Association (NBA) cash cow following growth in China.

There are more than 500000 people playing basketball in South Africa , according to Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA's vice-president for development in Africa.

Growth is 20% a year.

Fall has been in charge of the organisation's operations on the continent since 2010, when it launched its headquarters in Johannesburg. He said the investment had been significant, but did not give figures.

In the US, basketball is big business. In 2001, Kagan's Business of Basketball valued the average NBA team at about $235-million. By last year, that number more than doubled to $509-million, according to Forbes.

Reuters reports the NBA International's president, Heidi Ueberroth, as saying: "Africa is fertile ground."

New NBA commissioner Adam Silver echoed her sentiments, saying that with Africa's billion people and more than a billion in India and China, "there is so much opportunity out there for us".

The game's growth on the continent could replicate that of China, its biggest market outside the US.

It has barely scratched the surface there. It is estimated that NBA apparel and footwear is sold in more than 2200 Adidas stores to the 1.3billion-strong nation. And Chinese fans pay to watch NBA teams practise.

And with Africa's burgeoning middle class, it is understandable that the NBA would like to see similar growth.

NBA has been investing about $1-million a year in its Basketball Without Borders programme since 2003 in addition to other investments in Africa.

Basketball Without Borders is the NBA's three-day life skills seminar and skills development session by NBA players.

Having secured a multibillion-rand deal with SuperSport to flight three NBA games a week across 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Fall is now negotiating with companies that would like to acquire exclusive rights to NBA merchandising on the continent.

"I am confident in the very near future there will be an announcement in this space," he said.

Fall, who recently moved his team to a bigger office in Sandton, said he was happy with the progress in the past couple of years.

His team has identified South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Angola and his home country of Senegal as priority countries in growing the business.

Economic growth in these countries has been positive.

Fall said he wanted to partner with key stakeholders to invest with the association in infrastructure.

"This is a massive continent. We cannot as a sport take everything on our shoulders."

He has been meeting government officials all over Africa to discuss and resolve some of these issues.

Fall is working on bringing some of the popular US basketball teams to play on African soil during the NBA's league off season.

This year, the Brooklyn Nets visited Europe and China.

Fall said as that he continued to lay the groundwork he believed the NBA would have no reservations about staging similar games on the continent.

"The issue is that we have to find those stadiums," Fall said.

The Coca-Cola Dome is one venue that caught Fall's eye as a potential venue in South Africa for such games. But more arenas are needed.

He referred to this as an opportunity for businesses that might want to build and own these basketball arenas.

One of his visions is seeing the game and local leagues developing to the point that African players will see no need to go to the US to ply their trade.