The National Basketball Association’s African league, which counts former U.S. President Barack Obama as a strategic adviser, is facing mounting losses as it seeks to build a following in the region, sometimes resorting to bussing in fans to help fill empty seats.
The Basketball Africa League, now entering its fourth season, is the NBA’s sole professional league outside the U.S., and its most ambitious international expansion since it attempted to break through in China two decades ago on the coattails of Hall of Fame center Yao Ming.
While the league has had some successes, the complexities of running an operation in multiple developing economies across a continent have proved challenging. Soccer remains by far the most popular sport in the region, limiting basketball’s appeal, and some teams have struggled to pay players on time. As the BAL plans to expand this year, money raised from investors in 2021 is running out, according to people familiar with the league, who asked not to be identified while discussing nonpublic information.