NBA Partners With Zimbabwe’s Econet To Win African Fans On Mobile, TV

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Written by Dana Sanchez

The top U.S. men’s professional basketball league is ending its relationship with South Africa-based satellite TV broadcaster SuperSport and partnering instead with Zimbabwe’s Econet Media to show live games and other NBA programs on pay TV, Internet and mobile, Associated Press reported.

Widely considered to be the premier men’s professional basketball league in the world, the NBA is trying a new approach to get fans in Africa.

Basketball is popular in parts of West Africa, but is generally a minor sport for the rest of the continent, AP reported. The NBA is trying to change that. It has had an office in Johannesburg since 2010 and in 2015 brought basketball stars Chris Paul, Luol Deng, the Gasol brothers and others to play an exhibition game — its first in Africa. It was the first of the big U.S. sports leagues to go to Africa, AP reported, and they did not sell out the 4,000-seat arena.

The NBA is splitting with the Africa’s biggest sports broadcaster and teaming up with a Zimbabwean telecommunications company founded by entrepreneur Strive Masiyiwa, a vocal Zimbabwean campaigner against corruption.

NBA games and programs will begin airing via Econet in sub-Saharan Africa from the 2016-2017 season. The deal makes Econet the NBA’s official broadcaster in sub-Saharan Africa and will offer viewers over 500 games a year including the playoffs and finals, the NBA said. It also includes Women’s National Basketball Association games, AP reported.

The SuperSport contract expires at the end of this season and the Econet agreement is for multiple years, the NBA said.

“This is the largest partnership in the history of the NBA in Africa,” said Amadou Gallo, NBA vice president and managing director for Africa, in an AP interview.

Econet has more than 9 million subscribers as of 2015, according to IBTimes.

Masiyiwa first rose to prominence in Zimbabwe in 1998 after a five-year court battle that he won against the state telephone monopoly, opening Zimbabwe’s mobile phone market to private commercial competitors for the first time, according to an earlier AFKInsider report.

Now one of Zimbabwe’s wealthiest businessmen, London-based Masiyiwa said, “Some of the worst corruption I have witnessed was not in governments but in the private sector. Some of the most corrupt people I have known were not Africans but we as Africans must take responsibility, individually and collectively, to fight corruption.”

Masiyiwa has telecom and media businesses in more than 20 countries in Africa, North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Forbes ranked him No. 41 of the 50 richest Africans in 2014 with a net worth estimated at $600 million.

Masiyiwa fell off the Forbes list in 2015 after new taxes were imposed on Econet and revenues declined, pushing down Econet’s share price more than 63 percent. Econet had to lay off workers and cut the salaries of workers by 35 percent.

NBA content will air in English, French and Portuguese-speaking countries on pay TV channels such as Econet Media’s Kwesé Sports channel, IBTimes reported. Other content will be distributed free. Econet will broadcast regular-season and playoff games as well as the NBA draft. The network will also produce original NBA content.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Econet is “the ideal partner to extend our reach in sub-Saharan Africa,” AP reported.

Mobile devices could help the NBA’s reach on a continent where only a few people have satellite or pay TV, but millions have cellphones and other wireless devices, AP reported.

“In Africa, a mobile device is the first screen for many,” Fall said. “We really wanted to tap into the opportunity that space offers.”

The NBA needs to spread the word in Africa and try and catch up with soccer, which dominates the sports channels, AP reported.

“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,” Fall said in a statement.

NBA content will also be available through a new website, NBA.com/Africa, hosting video highlights, sports-related news and statistics and scores. The site will also host an official fantasy game, IBTimes reported.

A week before announcing its Africa expansion, the NBA released a new mobile app in China through its partnership with Tencent, a Chinese company minority owned by Naspers, the largest company in Africa and seventh-largest Internet company in the world.