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Basketball’s influence in Africa is growing, latest NBA data shows

A new NBA Africa report shows growing African interest in basketball activities, judging by a surge in live game views, a growth in social media numbers and an increase in merchandise sales.

FROM growing live game viewerships to a surge in social media numbers and an increase in merchandise sales, a new NBA Africa report shows a growth in the number of Africans interested in basketball.

According to Silalei Shani, a basketball commentator and former Kenya basketball team captain, “What is happening now is that the basketball audience is connecting more and can be measured because of central areas of interest and at large scale basketball events that have come up in recent years, such as the BAL.”

“Credit has to go to social media, marketing and content creators. Basketball content is now being packaged in exciting and entertaining ways,” she added. Shani began her television career in 2013, fronting the popular Kenyan basketball show BAQE on regional broadcaster ZUKU and now presents at BAL matches.

The NBA Africa report uses data from the 2023-24 regular season and shows that of the more than 140 live game telecasts in Africa, average viewership increased by 41% year-over-year resulting in close to 6 million total watch hours.

Beyond live game telecasts, the surge in fan interest extended to social media, with NBA Africa’s localized social media accounts generating close to 90 million video views.

“The NBA Africa YouTube channel generated a more than 230% year-over-year increase in video views, driven by the NBA All-Star Africa Takeover influencer campaign that generated more than 2 million video views,” NBA Africa explains.

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The surge in video views on social media led to a 20% year-over-year increment in the number of followers across NBA Africa’s localized social media accounts.

African basketball players, particularly those playing overseas, were also key contributors to social media numbers last year.

The NBA Africa report highlights that Victor Wembanyama (who plays for the San Antonio Spurs and France and has ties to the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks; Greece; with ties to Nigeria) were among the 10 most-viewed players globally on NBA social media this season, with 1.3 billion and 558 million views, respectively.

Shani said the increase in talent across the continent and African representation in top basketball leagues is also helping to increase interest in the sport among Africans.

“When African players like Joel Embiid are named MVP at the level of the NBA or generational talent like Khaman Maluach is recruited to top schools like Duke, Africans want to rally around such players and be part of ‘African Pride’,” she explained.

The growing impact of basketball in Africa is also evident from the growth in merchandise sales in Africa, especially in South Africa, where NBA jersey sales surged by 150% last season.

The NBA opened new stores in Cape Town and Durban, while the NBA store in Johannesburg has also seen growth.

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NBA Africa opened its first physical store in Africa at Sandton City in Johannesburg in 2022, partnering with Shesha, a premium retailer of exclusive and limited-edition footwear, apparel, and accessories.

Last year, in November and December, two other stores were opened in Durban at Gateway Mall and in Cape Town at V&A Waterfront, respectively, in what then NBA Africa CEO Victor Williams described as a bid to satisfy “tremendous demand for official NBA merchandise from fans in South Africa and across the continent.”

The unveiling of NBA Africa’s first original docu-series, “Born & Bred,” has also played a role in raking in digital platform numbers, with the report showing the series generated more than 20,000 video views on the NBA App.

The five-part documentary premiered on the NBA App last November. It tells the stories of five current and former NBA Academy Africa student-athletes from Angola, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal and South Sudan.