20 African Business July 2019
Cover story: Broadcast media pendently sell international sponsorship rights from next season to sponsors outside the US and Canada, according to reports, offering the potential for new tie-ups. Executives believe there is significant scope for commercial expansion – global business spending on sports sponsorship is set to grow by 4% to £44bn in 2019, according to a report from agency Two Circles.
Fall says that as well as attracting African brands, the new league hopes to extend partnerships with the NBA’s established US-based sponsors to Africa. NBA ran a series of development camps with CocaCola’s Sprite brand from 2009–15 in multiple African countries, and its $1bn, eight-year apparel deal with Nike and an ongoing partnership with ball maker Spalding offer obvious partnership extensions for the African push.
Top: Thabo Sefolosha playing for Team Africa in Johannesburg. Below: Joel Embiid demonstrates his skills at a basketball clinic.
Eyes on the prize But for many would-be sponsors, interest could depend on the audience reach of the new league. The NBA’s multi-year deal with South Africa-based SuperSport across the continent was superseded in 2016 by a deal that made Econet the NBA’s offi cial
Winning over African viewers hooked on soccer’s Premier League and La Liga will be a huge challenge broadcaster on the continent, offering over 500 games a year. NBA programming is currently also available for paying subscribers of Canal+ in Francophone Africa and ZAP TV in Angola and Mozambique. But a key part of the NBA’s TV strategy is to make some content available via free-to-air in a bid to attract new and casual fans.
“Free-to-air has always been a key pillar for us, even when we had partnerships with SuperSport on pay TV… and now increasingly with the proliferation of mobiles and smartphones that’s another avenue where YouTube comes into play. Most of the national broadcasters in key markets are showing our product on free-to-air.”
Econet’s free-to-air Kwesé Free Sports shows games in select, mostly Anglophone countries. And in March, the NBA announced the launch of a YouTube channel dedicated to fans in sub-Saharan Africa, which featured two live games per week in prime time for the rest of the 2018-19 season, including the playoffs, conference finals and finals. Broadcasters for the Basketball Africa League are yet to be announced. NBA has also drummed up interest by hosting three sold-out Africa Games featuring US-based franchises in Johannesburg in 2015 and 2017 and Pretoria in 2018.
“We’ve seen a tremendous response. It’s very interesting to see interactions from all parts of Africa, fans watching and commenting on games… the main goal is to continue building the fan base,” says Fall.
Yet winning over African viewers hooked on soccer’s Premier League and La Liga will be a huge challenge. Hundreds of millions tune into Premier League games on the continent every year, while a GeoPoll survey of Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda estimated that viewing figures for some FIFA World Cup matches topped at least 20m. Nevertheless, Fall insists that the NBA has carved out a unique space in the sports media landscape that complements rather than competes with football.
“In the long run and even presently, people are watching both. A lot of the top football players are huge NBA fans. The NBA is really where music, fashion and sport intersect. These are all elements that speak to youth and this is why I like our chances of winning our mindshare where more people will tune in. I don’t necessarily see it as competition with football, we will just focus on doing what we are doing best.”
Inspiring youth Fall believes that the NBA’s focus on African talent will help to foster a strong connection with fans. Thirteen African-born players were on NBA rosters at the start of 2018-19 season, while 10 players from the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Africa programme have been drafted into the NBA since 2003.
“When you have strong players on court and coaches that are serving on teams and in front offi ces, topping it off with a Nigerian running one of the best franchises in the NBA, that certainly contributes to brand awareness. For us the most important thing is we see basketball and sports as a key driver for economic growth and Africa is a continent on the rise. It’s all about how we can use the power of our brand and the celebrity of players to inspire the youth to engage in positive social activities.” n