We all love the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. Hell, we even love the NHL whenever they decide to play. But for every sports league that stands the test of time, dozens more fall into the dustbin of history, never to be seen again. It takes a tremendous amount of money to launch a league, so these failures are pretty serious business. Even with all the chaos of player arrests and replacement refs, we’re happy with what we’ve got. Enjoy this trip back into the world of 10 failed sports leagues.
PBH (Pro Beach Hockey)
OK, the words “beach” and “hockey” typically don’t go together in any way, but people tried it. In 1998, ESPN — looking for new programming to fill space in the summer — invested in Pro Beach Hockey, an upstart league in Huntington Beach, California. The players all wore rollerblades (because this was the late 1990s) and competed on an outdoor rink on the beach. The playing field had some modifications as well, including ramps behind the nets and deflective panels at the top of the dasher board. Oh, and the teams had awesome names like “Heavy Metal” and the “Dawg Pac.” Ratings were dismal, but ESPN held onto the league for three years before shutting it down.
XFL (Extreme Football League)
Pity poor Vince McMahon — his wife Linda’s two failed races for seats in the Connecticut senate are reported to have cost him more than a million dollars. But Vince, best known as owner of World Wrestling Entertainment, is no stranger to losing money. Although his sweaty men fake fighting business is profitable, nothing else he tries seems to be. The most egregious example was the XFL, an upstart football league he founded in 2001 in partnership with NBC. With some rule changes to make the game faster-paced (no extra-point kicks, for example) and scantily clad cheerleaders, the XFL tried to beat the NFL at its own game. It lost horribly, folding after just one season.
NBL (National Bowling League)
If you ever want to marvel at just how dull the past was, people used to watch bowling on TV religiously. In the early 1960s, bowling programs grabbed boffo ratings on many channels. There was already a bowling league, the Pro Bowlers Association, but that was composed of individuals competing against each other. The National Bowling League, launched in 1961, organized players into teams like the New York Gladiators and the Omaha Packers. But nobody really cared about intra-city rivalries in bowling, and spectators didn’t show up. The Gladiators eventually had to move to an alley in Totowa, New Jersey, before the league threw its last gutter ball in 1962.
WUSC (Women’s United Soccer Association)
In 1999, women’s soccer had a breakthrough moment. Sure, it involved Brandi Chastain winning the World Cup with a penalty kick and taking her shirt off, but it was still a breakthrough moment. Riding that wave, the 20 U.S. Women’s National Team players banded together with the Discovery Channel to get a league up and running on American soil. Eight cities got teams in 2000, and investors ponied up $40 million to pay for five seasons. Only one problem: They blew through all of that seed money in just one year, with low attendance at games just not bringing enough money in. Players took pay cuts, but it was no good — the WUSA closed down in 2003.
The AABA (All-American Basketball Alliance)
It’s kind of unfair to label a league as “failed” before there’s been a single game played, but we’re happy to bend the rules for the All-American Basketball Alliance. As envisioned by founder Don “Moose” Lewis, this nationwide B-ball franchise will bring back what the sport is really missing: white people. To play in the AABA, you need to be a native-born American “of the Caucasian race.” That’s because white folks play “fundamental basketball” while non-whites play “street ball,” and white people want to watch the first kind. Lewis claimed that ten cities were interested in fielding AABA teams in 2010, but as of this writing, no such teams exist and Lewis seems to have faded into the woodwork, taking his weird, racist dream with him.
Elite XC (Elite Extreme Combat)
Mixed martial arts is one of the all-time sports success stories of the 21st century. Starting out as a seedy way for freaks to brutalize each other in a cage, it’s grown into a worldwide phenomenon that has launched the careers of several crossover celebrities. Obviously, the UFC is on top of the world, but several fighting leagues tried to challenge their rise to power. Elite XC was a joint project of ProElite and Showtime, and they started running shows in February 2007. But when the outcome of a fight between Kimbo Slice and Seth Petruzelli was called into question, it was the kiss of death for the promotion. When people think your real fights are fake, they’re not going to watch them, and Elite XC folded in 2008.
IRDL (International Roller Derby League)
Roller derby was one of those 1970s sports that enjoyed a brief heyday and then disappeared for a generation. It was smash-mouth before football was, with teams of skate-wearing bruisers tearing around the track at breakneck speeds and brutalizing each other’s bodies. The longest-lived league in the sport was the IRDL, which also fielded teams of both men and women, playing alternately. It’s hard to say that a league that ran for almost 25 years is a “failure,” but after the IRDL shut down, the entire sport of roller derby sort of went into a coma for several decades. The spirit of the IRDL lives on, though, in today’s hipster-oriented all-female derby leagues that draw bigger crowds than ever.
CGS (Championship Gaming Series)
No matter how sluggish and lazy we get, watching people play video games is probably never going to be a spectator sport. But that hasn’t stopped people from trying to make it happen, most notably with the Championship Gaming Series. David Hill, an executive at DirecTV, saw the success of the World Series of Poker in 2007 and decided that it was time for American couch potatoes to watch video games be played. So teams were made up like the Carolina Chimera, the Berlin Allianz and the Birmingham Salvo and players competed in games like "Dead or Alive 4." After the 2008 season, the CGS suddenly and unexpectedly folded up shop, leaving tons of geeks out of a job.
USFL (United States Football League)
During the 1980s, football was starting to really take form as the nation's favorite sport. But what were fans supposed to do with themselves during the NFL offseason? Community service? Not likely, so businessman David Dixon floated the idea of a new league that would compete in the offseason, and in 1983 the USFL was born. Consisting of 12 teams, including the Donald Trump-owned New Jersey Generals, the league had trouble right from the beginning, with player (and owner) defections, stadium troubles and more. After the 1984 season, the owner of the Los Angeles Express went bankrupt and the league had to pick up all of the team’s operating expenses. Even though the USFL introduced several important rules to the game that the NFL would later adapt (such as the two-point conversion), by the end of 1987 it was $163 million in the hole and needed to be put out of its misery.
Next: Worst Crimes Committed by Pro Athletes
SPBA (Senior Professional Baseball Association)
Baseball is the most slow-moving of all of the major sports, so how could a league devoted to making it even slower possibly fail? The Senior Professional Baseball Association was incorporated in 1989 in the (logical) state of Florida with a unique twist: Only players over the age of 35 were allowed on the field. Designed to give former MLB big names who couldn’t cut it with the young dogs anymore something to do, the starting roster boasted names like Rollie Fingers, Vida Blue and Earl Weaver, with Curt Flood serving as the league’s commissioner. Unfortunately, audiences didn’t really warm to the idea of “old dudes playing baseball” and after the second season ended in 1990, the SPBA closed its doors forever.