Africa’s first NBA basketball league launched, will it be a slam dunk?

Africa will be the home for the first NBA basketball league outside of the United States, but the question is will investors see it as a slam dunk?

The NBA announced its foray into the continent at the Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg, Tuesday, with an international league among the champions of 12 African nations to start in March. The champions of six nations have qualified so far: Nigeria; Senegal; Egypt; Angola; Morocco and Tunisia. Twelve other African nations will play off for the last six places. The league appears to be funded completely by the NBA but in the long term will have to find money from heavyweight investors. It may be a hard sell in a continent where football is king of the sports dollar.

A straw poll among bankers and foreign investors at the launch at the Sandton Convention Centre showed how hard a nut to crack investment may be.

“No,” says one African banker shaking his head.

“Not now but maybe if the sport grows in the future,” says another African investors.

Basketball has had a chequered past in Africa when it comes to money. In Angola, there is a televised league. In Mozambique, along with a number of other Lusophone countries , it has a big following, but even less money. In Africa’s most industrialised economy, South Africa, fans follow the NBA but efforts to popularise the sport have been slow.

Albert Zeufack, the economist for the World Bank Africa, is a basketball fan who follows the LA Lakers. He believes tycoons pouring billions into African basketball may not be as farfetched as it seems.

“I think it is promising as an investment. The talent Africans bring to the NBA its exploding, it shows the potential. It is an opportunity for investors to grow training centres here for new talent and bring hope for the continent,” he says.

Akinwumi Adesina, the head of the AfDB, said at the launch that he had followed basketball matches while he studied in the lab at university in the United States. He encouraged investors to plough billions into the new African league.

“I am very happy about this launch…Africa has the talent when it comes to basketball. All I ask is that they change the name from NBA to NBIA to National Basketball Investment Africa !”he joked.

Written by By Chris Bishop, head of Programming, CNBC Africa.