Africa: What Next for the Basketball Africa League?

After what was termed as successful completion of the inaugural season of the Basket Africa League last week, NBA Africa officials say that plans for subsequent leagues are underway with activities including strengthening of national leagues.

Rwanda is slated to host the finals of the league in 2022 and 2023 with playoffs held in caravan format in the various participating countries.

While the next tourney is slated for 2022, the to-do list goes beyond organizing the games.

Among aspects that officials say are a work in progress include mobilizing adequate resources, strengthening national leagues capacities as well as professionalizing the leagues.

While NBA Africa, the key organizer of the tourney was recently valued at $1b, the participating countries' leagues have been said to fall short in several aspects if the league is to become sustainable in the coming years.

Among the aspects that BAL President Amadou Gallo Fall said has been and continues to be a work in progress is strengthening the capacities of the national leagues of which BAL participating teams are part.

He said that prior to BAL, they had commenced initiatives such as bringing in NBA experts to pass on African leagues skills in aspects such as coaching, sports management, marketing, broadcasting among others.

"We are looking to professionalize the sector and environment, that is what will give us the development we want as well as make the public and private sectors want to join us," he said.

In most countries including Rwanda, the national leagues are dominated by two or three teams, which officials say ought to change in coming years.

NBA Africa is also keen to attract and take in investors and partners following the successful completion of the inaugural league.

Fall said that they have since started receiving investor interests from the continent and beyond as more parties seek to be involved. The interest he said includes calls to increase the number of participating teams beyond 12, which he said remains a possibility in later years.

The inaugural season was funded by international sponsors (such as NBA, Hennessy, AFD - Agence Française de Développement, New Fortress Energy among others).

Rémy Rioux the chief executive officer of the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) said going forward, the sustainability of the league will also be in part determined by the ability to mobilize capital for sports development.

Rioux said that among the avenues for funding is through public development banks such as Development Bank of Rwanda as well as African Development Bank.

Fall noted that they are having continuous engagement with financial sector stakeholders to establish viable financing models.

Joakim Noah, a former NBA player who is among the investors in NBA Africa said that in subsequent tourneys the league is not only an investment opportunity but is expected to create jobs across its value chain.

Noting that the NBA employs more people than there are athletes, Noah said that in the process of professionalizing the sector, numerous young people will have job opportunities.

Locally, Patriots Basketball Club President Brian Kirungi recently said that BAL and subsequent leagues have necessitated professionalizing the management of the club.

Speaking on Rwanda Television, he said that while the club has previously been run as a passion project, they have since hired day to day management of the club including a Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer.

Other aspects that national leagues and BAL have their work cut out for consequent tournaments include media and broadcasting rights which Wes Edens, owner of Aston Villa and Milwaukee Bucks, an American basketball team said are key in driving the uptake of the sport.

"The hallmark of a productive BAL would be a productive media presence for people to care about it, watch it and follow it. As the media profile develops, so will the league," he told The New Times.

Other aspects that will influence the fate of the sport and league is availability of quality infrastructure with only a handful of countries such as Rwanda and Senegal having standard arenas.


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