Throughout the United States, there are five sports that rule the sporting world; the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and NASCAR. However, because each of these leagues receives millions upon millions of dollars for their product, there have been many people over time that truly believed they could start their own sports league with the same level of success.
Unfortunately for them, however, that just never ended up being the case.
No sport has been safe from being copied; since the turn of the 21st century, leagues like the United Football League, the All American Football Conference, the American Basketball Association, the All American Basketball Alliance, the Great Central League, the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball and the International Hockey League are just seven of the hundreds of failed ventures in United States sports leagues.
The NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and NASCAR aren’t the only sports that tried to be duplicated; over the course of time, sports like lacrosse, bowling, roller-skating, cricket and slow pitch softball have also been created – and failed – as well.
While it originally seems like a good idea to create a league to compete with the big five, it is just virtually impossible; whether it is national television deals, attendance numbers, sponsorships or investors, high ranking officials from various walks of life don’t see the need to put the time in effort into smaller leagues when the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and NASCAR still exist, and don’t appear to be going away any time soon.
Many have tried, and many have failed; here are 15 sports leagues that failed to make a dent in the competition.
15 Elite Xtreme Combat
It could be argued that there has been no sport that has jumped onto the national scene as big and as fast as MMA. While the UFC is seen as the cream of the crop when it comes to MMA companies, organizations like Bellator and Invicta FC are quality competitors that keep the sport breathing in other areas besides the UFC. However, in 2006, there was yet another up-and-coming MMA company, that looked to become an alternate to the UFC: Elite Xtreme Combat. After signing a deal with CBS to host bi-monthly programs during prime time hours, Elite XC was able to sign notable names like Renzo Gracie and Frank Shamrock to compete for them.
Unfortunately, the organization went into trouble in 2008, as the highly anticipated and promoted debut of Kimbo Slice was met with a stunning loss to a replacement fighter, which had people talking that the company fixed its matches. That, combined with financial woes, halted the growth of the company, and Elite XC ceased to exist just two years after their inception.
14 Championship Gaming Series
After DirecTV executives – led by David Hall – were impressed with both the production value and viewership success from the World Series of Poker on ESPN, the decision was made to bring video gameplay to television, as the company created a league that featured teams from across the globe playing video games like FIFA, Dead or Alive and Counterstrike Force, among others, in a bracket style competition.
Teams were broken down into six regions with 12 different countries represented; some of the teams that were a part of this league were called the New York 3D, Dallas Venom, London Mint, Dubai Mirage and Sydney Underground, among others. Although the league generated moderate success on an independent channel on DirecTV, the company folded without warning, thus putting an end to watching people play video games as a sport on television.
13 United States Professional Volleyball League
After the sport of women’s volleyball garnered the adoration and respect from many people due to the summer Olympics, home building executive William Kennedy, backed by a multitude of financial advisors, decided to launch the United States Professional Volleyball League in 2002. In the first year of the league, four teams were introduced – the Chicago Thunder, Minnesota Chill, Grand Rapids Force, and St. Louis Quest – while the season itself was rather short.
Although there wasn’t much success with the USPV, Kennedy decided to bring it back for another year while adding additional teams in 2003. However, with the aforementioned financial advisors backing out of their deal, the league had to disband just one year after it was incepted.
12 Senior Professional Baseball Association
Because of the obvious infusion of young talent taking over MLB, the Senior Professional Baseball Association was created in the state of Florida. Of course, this league came with an interesting twist on the game: to be eligible to play, everyone had to be 35 and older, while catchers as young as 32 could join the league as well. While the idea seemed farfetched, notable names did play of the SPBA, including MLB Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Ferguson Jenkins, along with Ron Washington, Dave Kingman, Mickey Rivers and Milt Wilcox, among others.
While the baseball league did come off as very unique, attendance didn’t reflect those thoughts, as the games didn’t have many people watching. In the end, the SPBA had a total of 10 teams throughout the state of Florida, and after a 72 game and 56 game schedule in 1989 and 1990, respectively, the SPBA folded after the second season.
11 World Boxing League
While the sport of boxing has really fallen off the map in its own right, the idea of the World Boxing League was, if anything, unique. However, a decision to have a team-boxing league was still seen as odd. In 2007, the WBL was introduced, and the rules were simple; each team must have a fighter to represent six separate weight classes, and the team with the most wins would advance to the playoffs to eventually crown the WBL Team Champions. And while the WBL is technically still in existence, there hasn’t been much coming from the league since 2009 – which, ironically, was the same time their website was updated.
10 World League of American Football
The NFL created the World League of American Football in 1991, with a purpose of giving young players a chance to develop, to experiment in rule changes and to try to enlighten the rest of the world to American football. However, the fact that seven of the 10 original teams were featured in America, combined with the fact that the rosters were made up of NFL roster cut leftovers, made the WLAF lose interest in many right away.
While the league lasted just five seasons under the WLAF banner, the league itself was never really viewed as a positive. Although the aforementioned troubles were apparent, the league didn’t necessarily die down in 1997.
9 NFL Europe
I guess the NFL didn’t catch the hint; while the WLAF never caught on with foreign countries while also being viewed as a minor league-type of situation in front of the American audience, the decision was made to rebrand the league to NFL Europe, with (I guess) the intention was to garner more viewers because the league had the NFL name attached to it; unfortunately, more of the same continued with NFL Europe.
While the new edition of the WFAL featured future NFL mainstays like Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme, disbanding teams, loss of revenue and less NFL franchises being interested in having players play for the league made NFL Europe cease operations in 2007.
8 American Basketball League
Similar to the United States Professional Volleyball League, women’s basketball captivated America after the massive run of the women’s national team in the 1996 Olympics. Because of this, the American Basketball League was created in the same year. Although the Women’s National Basketball Association was being created around the same time, the ABL was able to sign many of the women who participated in the Olympics, while also handing out higher salaries as well.
While the league found early success due to high quality of play while also not directly competing against the WNBA (the ABL played in the winter while the WNBA played in the summer), the backing of the NBA eventually catapulted the WNBA ahead of the ABL. Unfortunately, due to underfinancing, the ABL folded during the middle of their third season.
7 Women’s American Football League
In 2001, the decision was made to create a full tackling female football league, known as the Women’s American Football League. There isn’t much information about the WAFL out there; however, in the inaugural season, the California Quake ran away with WAFL Championship, as they went 12-3 throughout the regular season. Unfortunately, after just three seasons, the WAFL failed, and they later merged with four other national all-women tackle football leagues, which is still in existence today.
6 North American Soccer League
For those who think Major League Soccer was the first United States based soccer league, you are sorely mistaken; that honor goes to the North American Soccer League, which had its first ever season in 1968. Because the NASL was the first league to prominently feature both American and Canadian teams, there was much success over the first 12 years of the NASL’s existence. Similar to MLS, the NASL attracted players from overseas that were past their prime, yet were still able to play at a high level due to the lower talent in the league.
Pele, one of the world’s most famous soccer players, jumped to the NASL and joined the New York Cosmos, a team that not only won five championships, but also in their heyday, were able to attract nearly 20,000 fans per game. While the NASL tried to separate themselves from the pack by running indoor games as well as outdoors games, once the 1980s hit, the league began to suffer across the board. Low attendance, poor income and less and less sponsorships by the year were all main attributes to the downfall, and the league folded in 1985. Although there is currently a NASL running in the United States today, it doesn’t hold a connection with the original league.
5 Women’s United Soccer Association
Just like in the slides talking about the United States Professional Volleyball League and the American Basketball League, women’s soccer won over the nation during the 1999 World Cup, and the team of women who represented the country met with executives from the Discovery Channel, creating the Women’s United Soccer Association, the first ever professional women’s soccer league in the United States.
After an eight-team league and $40 million budget for five seasons were set, teams like the Philadelphia Surge, the New York Power and the Boston Breakers competed for the Founders Cup Championship. Unfortunately, the WUSA not only failed to meet television and attendance numbers, but they also went through the $40 million in their first year of existence. Because of this, the league folded just after three seasons.
I guess NBA players jumping as high as they can to throw down dunks weren’t enough. In 2002, the sport of Slamball was created, and was a regularly seen league on Spike TV during the first two years of its inception. While Slamball was definitely unique, it was also very dangerous. The general concept of Slamball was the sport of basketball played on padded ground and trampolines, which combined for hard hits and high-flying dunks.
Rules and positions were different from basic basketball, as you were allowed to hit players into Plexiglas boards while also having positions known as handler, gunner and stopper. While Slamball definitely had a niche market, the original league folded just two years after it was created. However, Slamball tournaments are still held today in cities all across the world.
3 World Hockey Association
Although many leagues had tried before them, there was never a real threat to the National Hockey League; that is, of course, until the World Hockey Association came about in 1971. The plan for the WHA was simple; American promoters Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson took advantage of many large American cities and some smaller Canadian cities not having NHL teams, so the men formed franchises in Cleveland, Denver, Miami, San Diego and Edmonton, among others. On top of that, the WHA was giving out longer and more lucrative contracts to their players, which attracted nearly 70 players from the NHL to jump ship.
However, with the NHL being a stronger run league, talks of merging happened often, simply because the WHA kept losing both legal battles and money during their stint.
2 United States Football League
In what has come to light in recent years due to the success of ESPN’s 30 for 30 on the league, the United States Football League was created by Louisiana business man David Dixon in an attempt to compete with the National Football League. Instead of being played during the fall and winter seasons, Dixon had the USFL playing during the spring and summer, which was able to attract fans of the NFL since games were played in different seasons. Also, big market cities Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston all had teams, thus bringing even more eyes to the product.
Although the USFL lasted only four seasons, they are noted for both their high caliber talent and rules. Future NFL greats like Reggie White, Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie, Jim Kelly and Steve Young all made a name for themselves in the USFL, while concepts like instant replay and the two point conversion were adopted by the NFL once the USFL ceased operations.
World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon is known for doing some outrageous things throughout his life. However, one that could top his list (and what tops our list) is the creation of the XFL, an American football league. During the heyday of professional wrestling in 1999, both McMahon and NBC officials put together around $100 million to make a startup football league.
To differentiate itself from the NFL, the XFL was branded as more extreme; there was a short list of rules, public address announcers would trash talk and nicknames were on the back on the jerseys, while also holding a “human coin toss” which had two men race down the field and literally fight for the ball to see who gets it first. Because the XFL was so highly associated with professional wrestling, it was never viewed as legitimate; and although games were featured on NBC, the ratings over the course of the season got lower and lower.
After losing a combined $70 million, both McMahon and NBC officials decided to cease operations of the XFL. Although it has a cult-like following today, the XFL is generally regarded as the biggest failed sports league in history.