It has been rated as one of the fastest growing sports merchandising outfit in the continent. But while stakeholders in African sports describe AFA as a young organization that has brought sports merchandising to a level new to this part of the world, the managers say they still have many grounds to cover.
AFA Sports promoters are a group of young men assembled in the USA to develop basketball concept for the continent of Africa. AFA means ‘Africa for Africa’ and on that score, the organization is out to develop an African league with base in Nigeria that would be highly professional and profitable to the players, teams and with their sights set on quality facilities’ development.
Speaking in Lagos during the week, AFA officials explained that their desire was to create a high net income league that 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.
AFA’s Chief Executive Officer, Ugo Udezue revealed that AFA Sports represents a concept that highlights Africa’s sports development and national pride, adding that it started with the simple desire to meet up with the huge kit demands of the Continental Basketball League and its ancillary set up. But that changed when the Nigerian national basketball team, D’Tigers had a major kitting challenge going into the AfroBasket 2017 competition.
“The 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, which forms the core of the brand.
“The 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. This is part of what we want to change.
“Can 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.“We 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 into this untapped market has helped in the creation of jobs and opportunities for Africa and also major investments in the media and content development.
“A lot is happening in the marketing line. There are others that 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 us to chat a more developmental and financial rewarding system for African sports.”He revealed that in 2017 AFA Sports launched Africa’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 “LIV (54)” represents the 54 countries on the African continent.
“LIV (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,” the AFA boss said.Udezue explained that the 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,” he added.
Udezue revealed that 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, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun 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 – that level of the competition is by above the various domestic leagues of the participating countries.”Udezue is right because Nigerian basketball stakeholders, for instance, agree that over time the CBL system would rub off positively on the Premier League and effectively help raise the standard. This is because only a 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 also unrivalled on the continent.
Udezue added, “If 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.
“Many 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 can’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 can’t get in America,” he added.
Udezue believes that by the next tip off, more basketball teams would have joined the system. These clubs are expected to come from Nigeria, Togo, Senegal, Mali and Central African Republic to get aboard.The Guardian reports that AFA alliance with the CBL has already started changing the way Nigerian basketball is seen by a society that has been put off for so long by the quality of services it is used to. 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 the country 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 CBL arrived on the continent, 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 them.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 d’Ivoire and Cameroun 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 have 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 ‘expensive one,’ 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.
There’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.
AFA has so many other projects. In 2017, the Nigeria Volleyball Federation came into the expanding network as the national team was handled by the organisation. There are similar plans for neighbouring Republic of Benin’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.
“This 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,” Udezue assures.
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