As smartphone penetration increases in Africa, American basketball has locked down a deal to bring more games to these devices.
The National Basketball Association and Econet, a telecommunications company, have signed a multiyear partnership to bring more sports coverage to sub-Saharan Africa starting in the 2016-17 NBA season, the organizations announced Thursday.
Econet will broadcast over 500 games next season on its satellite-based network as well as internet and mobile offerings. NBA content will air in English-, French- and Portuguese speaking countries on pay television channels, such as Econet Media’s Kwesé Sports channel. Other content will be distributed for free. Econet will broadcast regular-season and playoff games as well as the NBA draft. The network will also produce original NBA content.
Econet has more than 9 million subscribers as of last year, according to its financial reports. One in nine households are connected to the internet in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the 2015 Broadband Progress Report by the United Nations’ Broadband Commission. Not every connection is able to keep up with the bandwidth requirements of watching video, however.
But the NBA hopes it will reach a much larger audience in the nation. “This historic partnership will deliver the NBA to a region with more than 900 million people and reflects our commitment to partnering with leading African companies to grow basketball across the continent,” said Amadou Gallo Fall, the NBA vice president and managing director for Africa, in a statement.
NBA content will also be available through a new website, NBA.com/Africa. The site will host video highlights, sports-related news and statistics and scores. The site will also host an official fantasy game. Econet users can also subscribe to receive highlights and other original content on mobile.
This deal is NBA’s largest effort to bring coverage to sub-Saharan Africa, a country they have been working to expand in especially over the last decade. The NBA opened an office in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2010 and has held more than 100 events in 30 countries since then. For example, the NBA organizes junior leagues in Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.
The league hosted the first NBA game on the continent as part of its Basketball Without Borders Africa initiative last August. The outreach program, started in 2003, has reached more than 1,000 players and has helped eight draft into the NBA. Last season, the league had 10 African-born players, a record, according to the rosters on opening day.
“Following the success of our first NBA game in Africa last summer, we look forward to working with Econet Media to engage and grow our fanbase across the region,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.
Indeed, the audience is already growing. For instance, the NBA Africa Facebook page grew by 150 percent over the last year and currently has over 475,000 likes. That’s far from the more than 29 million likes on the NBA page, but a sign that there is enthusiasm in the region and one that Econet hopes to foster in its exclusive deal.
Prior to the partnership with Econet, the NBA streamed games on SuperSport, a satellite TV broadcaster. Econet helps the NBA access a mobile audience, which continues to increase in Africa. However, more people in Africa own regular cell phones compared to a smartphone.
The news of its expansion in Africa comes just a week after the NBA released a new mobile app for its audience in China through its partnership with Tencent. “We have an incredibly broad, diverse and hungry fan base in China for all things NBA,” NBA China CEO David Shoemaker told IBT.