When a group of young men assembled in the USA to develop basketball concept for the continent of Africa they had a lot on their minds. They wanted an African league with the base in Nigeria that would be highly professional and profitable to the players, teams and with their sights set quality facilities development.
Their bet was on the fact that a high net income league would save African players from the agony of loitering in the USA after college or hanging around just any team in Europe and Asia in the name of playing professional basketball. What was not really on the table was becoming sports merchandise manufacturers that would cater for types of African sports. It is the kit merchandising that has taken up the energy of this team led by Ugo Udezue. That was how the AFA Sports concept was born and they are gradually sweeping through the continent with this unique item.
The simple brand name AFA Sports means â€œAfrica for Africaâ€ and they say it represents a concept that highlights Africaâ€™s sports development and national pride. They started with the simple desire to meet up with the huge kit demands of the Continental Basketball League and its ancillary set up but then the Nigerian national basketball team Dâ€™Tigers had a major kitting challenge going into the AfroBasket 2017 competition and this had a turnaround effect on AFA and their expanding foothold on the continent.
â€œThe truth is that the major world brands are not interested in developing anything on the continent. AFA represents African sports and pride, it was established to showcase the pride and interest of the continent and this forms the core of the brand.
â€œThe AFA brand was created to give the Nigerian and the African sports industry the attention and quality it deserves. And we are doing this by creating a range of products that have been adapted to the climate, kinetics and colours that are unique to African social context,â€ says Udezue, the Chief Executive Officer of the expanding African brand.
â€œThe big names we all know of today are not interested in the lower teams or any team going down the ranking. Africa has to fight its own cause. We have hardly received any kit or equipment from Europe or America basically developed solely for the need of the continent and this is part of what we want to change.
â€œCan we fully quantify how the landscape is changing with the arrival AFA? Within this short time a lot of jobs have been created both at the upscale and lower levels. And this is part of what AFA is all about. We want to empower a lot of people; hugely as many as we can.
â€œWe can boldly say that in the last two years AFA Sports have steadily been designing concepts that are unique to Africa; and unique in every sense of the word. We have also been creating a whole new market and industry that was non-existent before we came on board in terms of being huge or small scaled. The energy AFA has put this untapped market, has helped in the creation of jobs and opportunities for Africa and also major investments in the media and content development.
â€œA lot is happening in the marketing line especially. And there are others who have developed their own products along the line or have re-engineered and improved upon their earlier and original concepts working along with AFA. So the whole deal is for help us and chat a more developmental and financial rewarding system for African sports.â€
In 2017 AFA Sports launched Africaâ€™s first Active footwear designed and engineered in Nigeria to underline their beliefs. And as inscribed on its soles, the active wear shoes were designed to showcase the pride of Africa. The name â€œLIV (54)â€ represents the 54 countries on the African continent.
â€œLIV (54) is tailored and customized to the African physiology, kinetics and environment. It is lightweight and has the perfect combination of grip, comfort, durability and bounce,â€ AFA brand expert told THISDAY.
â€œThe features of AFA Sports premier active wear shoes include Contoured Traction Grip (CTG) technology with advanced arch support and rubber outsole borrowed from the multi movement patterns of the Sahara Desert. It also has a micro mesh knit that gives the shoes comfort and breathability in warm climates. It is also fitted with multi gel areas for force deflections.â€
But the rating doesnâ€™t end there. The AFA Sports 54â€™s is classic. It can be worn to make a fashion statement or to elevate the userâ€™s basketball game. And it has been widely tested and accepted.
Apart from delivering the continentally-customised designs of the AFA brand, it is also the goal of the big African brand to establish sports programmes and encourage sports development in these countries. Extra attention is on the table for the countries adjudged neglected and marginalized due to lack of investment from the developed areas.
The CBL tournament is one of such designed to change the African sporting landscape. In the closed season clubs from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Gabon featured. The clubs were made up of players from various African countries and across the world. A high number of the players were Africans in the Diaspora and African-Americans. In the barely two seasons that the league has held, fans of the game of basketball on the continent agree on a fact â€“ that level of the competition is by above the various domestic leagues of the participating countries.
Experts of the game in Nigeria, for instance, are very optimistic that over time the CBL system will rub off positively on the Nigeria Premier League and effectively help raise the standard. Only very few of the best from the domestic leagues are able to meet the requirement for the CBL. The packaging and ambience of the CBL is unrivalled on the continent.
Udezue added, â€œIf we have quality leagues on the continent in terms of the games on the court and what the players take home, then less of these young players will run abroad ill prepared. When we say these things, we speak from experience because some of us landed in America unprepared for what we saw.
â€œMany of the system out there are basically designed for everyone on the court to enhance the system and help the economic system. Most times the Africans barely get the best opportunity and can hardly get integrated into the system as soon as they canâ€™t play anymore. At CBL we want to change all that. We want to keep quality talents here, make them earn good money and give them the opportunity to play in front of their parents, families and friends. It is also very important that these players are playing with the kits and equipment that were designed and engineered here. This is the kind of opportunity many of these young canâ€™t get in America.â€
It is hoped that by the next tip off, more basketball teams would have joined the system. More clubs are expected from Nigeria, Togo, Senegal, Mali and Central African Republic to get aboard.
Indeed the combination of AFA and CBL is changing the way the Nigerian basketball is being viewed by the ever sceptical society â€“ scepticism developed over the years because the quality of services available hitherto. The games and the clothing have attracted the old, young and upwardly mobile in the society. It is now so easy for those in the ever growing Nigerian film industry and music icons in Nigeria and across a larger part of Africa to identify with the game of basketball based on what is seen on the court; the ambience around the entire competition and of course the various clothing designs put out by AFA that easily meet the taste of these socialites.
Until the start up of CBL, the little contacts across the borders were basically limited to the teams themselves travelling to play club competitions with little or no travelling fans accompanying. CBL has changed all that. Now we have fans travelling across the borders purely to watch this level of competition never witnessed on the continent of Africa in the past. It is believed that a lot more travelling across the continent would be seen as soon as the CBL gets into the next stage. From the high number of passengers made up of players, officials, the media and fans that move around with the games, the pan-African airlines will top the list of beneficiaries of the AFA-CBL ventures. Most of the journeys made so far have seen the league doing chartered flights or taking up 75 per cent of the seats available. The next group on the list of beneficiaries is the hospitality sector. Since 2015 when the league tipped off, hotels and catering services in Nigeria, Cote dâ€™Ivoire and Cameroon have enjoyed the boom. The expansion of the franchise to more African countries will naturally produce more number of spectators, travellers and investors and ultimately a plus for the tourism industry.
Apart from the level of competition in the leagues, the entertainment value and the ambience has made the Continental Basketball League games quite attractive to celebrities. The Nigerian domestic run by the Nigeria Basketball Federation is watched free-of-charge all over the country except in a centre like Kano but the spectators are usually a handful. Comparatively, the CBL charges fees, considered exorbitant by some people, but still the halls are practically filled up before any games. The only reason why spectators would abandon a free game for an â€œexpensive oneâ€ given the economic realities on ground is because of the value for money factor. People are desirous to get quality entertaining sports like the American NBA and the only platform closest to that in the whole of Africa is the CBL.
Thereâ€™s hardly an end to the drum beats of war in Nigeria, Africa and truly across the globe but CBL has not only continually encouraged shared love in Nigeria but has seen the growth of friendship amongst the African countries with the cross border plays. The league has also encouraged the exchange of players using their draft system.
There are so many other projects. In 2017 the Nigeria Volleyball Federation came into the AFA expanding network as the national team was handled by the Organisation. There are similar plans for neighbouring Republic of Beninâ€™s national team. AFA Sports is already working with the Liberian Basketball Federation to help revive their league and teams. Hockey and others are already lined up. There are also great plans to develop quality playing arenas in Nigeria and other places.
â€œThis project is not for us; it is for Africa. And those that will benefit more are not the players on the court now but the younger players who will join when the system is far in the auto pilot and cruising form,â€ Udezue who sits in the organisational headquarters in Lagos assures Africa.