NBA shoots for Africa’s smartphone users

By Seth Onyango, bird story agency

Africa’s smartphone user base is fast becoming a prime target for multinational entities looking for global expansion. First, it was Netflix, Spotify and TikTok… now it’s the NBA – and it looks like this is only the beginning.

Sports on the go is a buzzword as the National Basketball Association (NBA) joins those looking to rack up millions of viewers from Africa’s burgeoning mobile population, according to a Bloomberg report.

A previous report launched by AppsFlyer and Google revealed a booming African mobile app market, propelled by a growing fintech space, a rise in ‘super apps’, and the Covid-19 pandemic amongst other factors.

Having analysed over 6,000 apps and 2 billion installs across South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya, between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021, the report found that the African mobile app market showed strong growth, with overall installs increasing by 41%.

Global corporates and franchises are now betting on the continent’s rapid smartphone adoption and penetration of affordable internet to underpin their African growth model – and NBA Africa among them, according to the Bloomberg report.

Africa-focused equity fund, Helios Fairfax Partners Corp, which backs NBA’s entity on the continent is bullish that the mobile-first content marketing strategy will work.

“That investment in many respects encapsulates some of the points that we’ve been making about demographics and technology,” Helios chief executive officer Tope Lawani told Bloomberg.

NBA Africa is now valued at over US$1 billion as investors including former US President Barack Obama join in as strategic partners.

“Africa is the only place where the population of young people is actually growing. That’s where the people are who might play these sports,” Lawani said.

In May 2021, the NBA announced the formation of NBA Africa, as a new entity that will conduct the league’s business in Africa, including the Basketball Africa League (BAL) – a partnership between the NBA and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and the NBA’s first collaboration to operate a league outside of North America.

Although Covid-19 has stymied its growth trajectory, Lawani is upbeat that the changing profile of sports fans in Africa would propel NBA Africa to new heights, according to the Bloomberg report.

He is hoping that the global digital streaming trends that have shortened attention spans for long boring content will open the door to more innovative content broadcasting.

The NBA is hardly alone. Already, millions of fans in Africa and around the world are catching some of the top 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AfCON) highlights on TikTok, a headline sponsor of the event.

Preliminary statistics show that AfCON 2021 is one of the most-watched events in the competition’s 65-year history.

According to Statista, at least 40% of Africa’s population is aged 15 years and younger, and coupled with the growing penetration of affordable but powerful smartphones is expected to drive demand for mobile-based content.

“More affordable technology has made the continent a much more relevant market for the consumption of content and products,” Lawani told Bloomberg, adding that new technology brings varied and cheaper options to basketball fans keen to follow the NBA.

“Now with smartphones, you don’t have to watch 90 minutes of a football game, or all four quarters of a basketball game,” he said. You can watch highlights, you can watch delayed content, you can watch just goals, on a smartphone at a price that you can actually afford.”

He was alluding to five years ago when the only way to sell US basketball broadcasts was through an expensive full-service satellite TV service, that was out of reach of many Africans.

According to the Mobile Economy Report, 615 million people in Africa will subscribe to mobile services by 2025, an equivalent to 50% of its population.

Africa is also expected to see an increase in sports streaming mobile applications, with the surge in smartphone penetration fueling a dramatic shift in viewing behaviour on the continent.

In the AppsFlyer and Google research, Nigeria showed the highest growth in app installs, with a 43% uplift, followed by 37% in South Africa, and 29% in Kenya, in the one-year period under review.

/bird story agency