It may be the basketball offseason in North America, but the NBA has released a plethora of news this summer. On Tuesday, the Association revealed its latest project, the Basketball Africa League (BAL) which will tip-off in March 2020 with seven cities hosting games.
The NBA initially announced its plans to expand overseas during the regular season but gave little information at the time. While the Association and other North American sports leagues have been playing games overseas over the last few years, the Association is the first to since the NFL’s European league to expand outside of North America offering more to fans.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has aggressively moved to expand the league since taking his role in 2014. Fan interest has increased around the world and the Association is capitalising on its popularity. The 2018-19 NBA season started with players from 42 different countries. Almost a quarter of its players in 2018-19 were born outside the United States.
Although not all the details for the league were released, the BAL will have 12 teams divided into two conferences of six. BAL teams will play 30 regular season games with each team playing just five games.
Why is the NBA expanding to Africa?
The league eyes the emerging economies of Africa and its audiences as the future of the league. Like other US sports leagues, the NBA has seen some stagnation with fanbases, and want to expand overseas to further its following and grow itself economically.
American sports leagues see how the Premier League, La Liga, and the Champions League attract fans from all over the globe and want to do the same.
Compared to other US-based sports leagues including the NHL, Major League Baseball, or the NFL, the NBA appeals to a large number of people due to basketball being a worldwide sport.
According to Reuters, the Association had 13 Africa-born players in the league at the beginning of the 2018-19 season. Africa has long been a continent that produces NBA players although more have been cultivated in recent years.
Two of the most famous players to emerge from the continent were Hakeem Olajuwon from Nigeria and Dikembe Mutombo who was born in DR Congo.
While growing the game in Africa and developing future basketball stars are the most cited reasons for the NBA to invest in the BAL, the true motivation is money. Last March, the NBA began working on attracting more fans in Africa by streaming two games a week live via YouTube. The games were live-streamed in sub-Sahara Africa as the fight to grow basketball fans increased.
Dying interest in the NBA
One of the biggest issues with the NBA has been a lack of interest in regular season games. Although the league is at the most popular point in its history, the league is considering ideas to appeal to people on a grander scale.
One idea cited by Forbes is to begin a UEFA Champions League-like tournament. Theoretically, a tournament could be similar to the EuroLeague basketball competition played across Europe.
The big problem for the NBA is the league’s closed system. There is a lack of top-quality non-NBA leagues around North America.
Any deal would have to be agreed upon by the league’s Player Association, which could nix a high-pressure additional tournament to the NBA season. A number of former Association players have spoken in the past about their reasons for leaving European basketball leagues was due to the pressure of additional cup games.
The NBA seeks to conquer lands outside of North America and it is expected the BAL will be a big focus of the Association over the next few years