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New NBA league marks growing U.S. influence in African culture markets

Satou Diop dribbles the ball as she takes part in an NBA Academy Africa basketball camp at Maurice Ndiaye Stadium in Dakar on May 11, 2018.
An NBA Academy Africa basketball camp at Maurice Ndiaye Stadium, in Dakar, Senegal, May 11, 2018. Photo: Seyllou/AFP via Getty Images

The NBA announced last month that it would launch the Basketball African League (BAL), marking another advancement for U.S. commercial influence in African markets.

Why it matters: China's development of large infrastructure projects in Africa is often cited as evidence of the country's dominance in its economic rivalry with the U.S. But the U.S. continues to make gains in the creative industries on the continent, as entertainment, media and sports are becoming more important to Africa’s young, urban and increasingly connected population.

Background: The BAL announcement comes after decades of NBA involvement in Africa. Since 2003, the NBA has held Basketball Without Borders events, its primary development and community outreach program, across the continent, and in 2017 opened the NBA Academy Africa in Senegal to train elite male and female prospects.

What they're saying: In a statement about BAL, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that the league is "committed to using basketball as an economic engine to create new opportunities in sports, media and technology across Africa."

The big picture: The NBA isn't the only U.S. company looking to tap into Africa’s growing media and entertainment markets. In December, Netflix declared plans to invest in original series from Africa, and in February it announced its order of a South African teen series titled "Blood & Water."

The bottom line: The BAL is an investment in strengthening American goodwill in African countries and could herald future U.S.-African partnerships in sports and entertainment.

Aubrey Hruby is a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council's Africa Center.