The NBA is Shooting for Growth in Africa

January 16, 2020 By Dana Bruce

The official logo for the Basketball Africa League (BAL)

With the unveiling of a new logo, the National Basketball Association (NBA) made its new Basketball Africa League (BAL) official— fulfilling its commitment to launch its first league outside of the United States. But while this is the organization’s first league in Africa, the NBA is not new to the continent— particularly when it comes to engaging with African youth and investing in infrastructure and civil society across the continent.

Youth Engagement and Community Investment

Across Africa, the youth population is set to double by 2050, and through basketball, the NBA is helping these youth to learn life skills that can help them in the future.

Since 2003, the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camps have been held in various African countries—providing education and training opportunities to boys and girls from all African countries. In 2014, the NBA partnered with USAID on an initiative called Live, Learn and Play. Using the values and skills developed in the game of basketball— leadership development and teamwork— Live, Learn and Play promoted youth engagement and citizenship development in 20 schools throughout Senegal.

Not only is the NBA investing in building talent and providing youth development opportunities, but the basketball leader is also investing in infrastructure and civil society across the continent, especially through BAL.

First announced in February 2019, the BAL will feature 12 club teams from across the African continent and begin playing in March of this year. The BAL is expanding on the NBA’s previous investments to the entire ecosystem of the league— providing opportunities to individuals beyond just those on the court. In order to host the league, the BAL is building stadiums, training coaches and referees, and hiring stadium staff to do everything from sell tickets and food to clean the bleachers and maintain the parking lots. In short, the BAL will provide economic and employment opportunities in countries where millions of jobs are needed each year. And with Africa leading the way for consumer market growth in emerging economies, there will be no shortage of dedicated BAL fans.

Tall Orders in a Short Time

On December 19, 2019 the BAL announced the host cities of Cairo (Egypt), Dakar (Senegal), Lagos (Nigeria), Luanda (Angola), Rabat (Morocco) and Monastir (Tunisia). These are the cities where games will be played in the spring of 2020, and infrastructure built. The BAL Final Four and BAL Final will be held in Kigali, Rwanda in May of 2020. In just the past few decades, these host countries have struggled with everything from extreme violence to upheaval and change, most notably the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the rise of Arab Spring starting in 2011 in Tunisia and Egypt. Every one of these countries receives economic and humanitarian assistance from USAID—assistance that has fostered new opportunities today such as the BAL.

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) hosted the NBA for a discussion on its work in Africa and opportunities for growth during the 2019 U.N. General Assembly (UNGA). Joining the discussion on the BAL’s commitment to development on the continent of Africa were BAL President and Vice President and Managing Director of NBA Africa, Amadou Gallo Fall; USAID Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick; and a host of African leaders from government, the private sector and philanthropy. The discussion centered around the BAL as an opportunity to leverage a new generation of public-private partnerships. Private sector investment is critical for continued economic growth in Africa. In partnership with organizations such as USAID, companies can leverage the network and resources of the U.S. government, share the burden of the risks of investment, and create sustainable growth and job creation for future generations.

The NBA has commitments from NIKE and the Jordan Brand to be the exclusive outfitters of the new league and will look to African companies for additional sponsorship and partnership opportunities.  Continued strategic partnerships with private sector actors in conjunction with USAID and the local government of the countries hosting the league lessens the burden on the BAL to build the ecosystem from the ground up—and shortens the time it will take for the NBA to be fully operational and profitable in its first-ever league outside of the U.S.