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Top 20 Professional Sports Leagues Which Failed Miserably (or Hilariously)

One of the ways that athletes can show their prowess is to compete against others on a similar level. As a result, sports leagues are formed to give athletes a chance to compete. Managers, athletes, and others get involved to try and help the league gain popularity so that it is profitable and viable. However, some sports leagues just don’t make it. They have poor planning and management, or, in some cases, it just really wasn’t a good idea in the first place. Here are 20 professional sports leagues that failed:


  1. The United States Football League was created in order to be an alternative to the National Football League. The USFL was supposed to be profitable by not competing with the NFL, holding its season during the spring rather than going head to head with the NFL. Donald Trump even owned a USFL team, the New Jersey Generals. However, franchise instability was a problem, and nobody really cared to watch. The USFL lost $163 million during 1983 to 1985 before ceasing to exist. An anti-trust lawsuit was filed against the NFL, but not decided until 1988. The USFL was awarded $3.
  2. The XFL was meant to be an “extra fun” football league, full of action and excitement. Vince McMahon, the head of the WWE, started it in 2001. The idea was that the NFL was too staid, with too many rules, and was too boring. The XFL didn’t compete directly with the NFL, playing during the NFL’s off season. The XFL was meant to be a single business entity, without individual franchises operating their own business concerns. Even though there was a great deal of TV coverage for the startup league, the XFL never really caught on. Few people cared to watch, and the XFL only lasted one season.
  3. Arena Football LeagueThe Arena Football League, the AFL, was reasonably successful for some time. It was an indoor football league that started in 1987. Jim Foster started it, and it was meant to provide more excitement, since the field was shorter, creating an atmosphere that made it easier to score, with a faster paced game, and it was popular in some markets. However, the business model wasn’t working very well, and by 2008 the AFL was in serious debt. The league suspended operations, filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy. A new arena football league, Arena Football 1, started up in late 2009, and then changed its name to the Arena Football League in 2010.
  4. WFLThe World Football League was yet another short-lived attempt to cash in on American football. The league only lasted for one season in 1974, and part of a season in 1975. The idea was to bring American style football to the world. The World Football League did manage to convince some NFL players to switch leagues, but the league ultimately failed. It couldn’t get the interest, and the closest it got to being a “world” league was a team in Hawaii. Without the benefits of cable, which would come later, the WFL just couldn’t cut it.
  5. The United Football League started in 2008. Well, sort of. It false-started in 2008. Unable to get the traction it needed, it put things off until 2009. And it is struggling through 2010. While not officially failed yet, many are already ringing the death knell, since the UFL is making use of washed up NFL prospects. But, the UFL seems to hope that if it can hold on until next year, it can gain traction as a place for NFL players on strike over new contract negotiations in 2011.
  6. WLAFThe World League of American Football was another attempt at expanding the fan base beyond the U.S. The WLAF started in Europe, trying to get fans excited about American-style football. Unfortunately, things just got confusing. Europeans have their own kind of football — what we call soccer. And they weren’t all that excited for it. The WLAF folded in 1993, only two years after its inception, replaced by NFL Europe. Which also died out.
  7. AAFCThe All-America Football Conference was yet another competitor to the NFL. However, unlike many other competitors, the AAFC actually provided some innovations to the game that have stood the test of time. AAFC attracted some good players from 1946 to 1949, but even the well-funded league couldn’t win out over the NFL. In the end, three of the AAFC’s teams were absorbed by the NFL.


  1. American Basketball AssociationThe American Basketball Association started in 1967, and meant to compete with the NBA. The hallmarks of the ABA were its tri-colored basketball and the three-point shot. Another main point of the ABA was flashier play. The ABA was actually designed to fail: ABA promoters planned to force a merger with the NBA. Ultimately, even though the ABA failed to get all of its teams accepted into the NBA, it still succeed in its goal of failure with the merger in 1976.
  2. American Basketball LeagueThe American Basketball League was a women’s league, meant to provide a place for professional female athletes excelling at basketball. The league only lasted two full seasons, from 1996 to 1998. One of the biggest reasons that the American Basketball League failed was due to operating losses. Widespread interest was hard to come by, and the ABL couldn’t compete with the resources garnered by the WNBA, which the NBA has operated (at a loss) since its inception.
  3. Slamball is basketball played with trampolines. It’s a full contact sport, offering fast-paced excitement. There was a Slamball professional league in existence for 2002 to 2003, when games were aired. There was some Slamball in 2008, but that sort of died off as well. However, Slamball is trying to make a comeback in 2010. We’ll see how that goes. It is mostly Internet sensation fodder — and loved by reams of try-it-at-home types, many of whom find themselves in the hospital.
  4. The All-American Basketball Alliance formed in 1977. The idea was to create a professional minor basketball league to compete with the Continental Basketball Association. Games were only played for a couple of months in 1978 before the league folded. It was a nice thought — becoming a premier minor league — but it just didn’t work out. The AABA couldn’t compete with the established minor league, and it didn’t get enough attention and funding to survive.
  5. Another league called the All-American Basketball Alliance is a new league to be based in Atlanta, Georgia. This new league is a whites-only league, and will also exclude foreigners. The original start-up plan was to have the league in 12 cities, primarily in the South. But there appears to be little interest, despite the founder’s insistence that he isn’t a racist. (He said that “people of color” play “street-ball” instead of fundamentally sound basketball.) There just doesn’t seem to be that much interest in ponying up to watch the league, and it is expected to completely fizzle out any minute.

Other Sports

  1. The Women’s United Soccer Association represented the first professional soccer league in the world for women, beginning play in April 2001. All the women were paid professionals, and the soccer league was formed on the heels of the 1999 World Cup Championship and the gold medal in the 2000 Olympics. The women, like Mia Hamm, were clean and sponsor friendly. However, the interest wasn’t there, and the league ceased operations in 2003. The league lost right around $100 million.
  2. The North American Soccer League was an attempt to provide professional soccer in the United States and Canada. It was in operation from 1968 to 1984, but it never really gained widespread support. The league included indoor games as well as outdoor games to try and boost its fan base, but even that didn’t work. The game schedule was sparse, and sponsorship low. The league limped along until its final demise. Americans weren’t very interested in soccer, and it showed.
  3. World Boxing LeagueThe World Boxing League was introduced in 2007, and debuted in 2008, and was meant to make money off team boxing. Every team was required to have six weight divisions, and participate in fights throughout the seasons. Playoffs would be held, to determine the best boxing team. The World Boxing League is still in existence, limping along, looking for an audience. Indeed, the “official” site hasn’t even been updated since 2009, leading some to believe that it might already be defunct.
  4. Elite Xtreme Combat was a league designed around Mixed Martial Arts. EliteXC was supposed to raw and exciting, promising fierce fights. Specials were to be broadcast every other month on CBS, but things soon fell apart. One of the issues was that in the opening fight, Kimbo Slice took off the ear of his opponent, and the fight was pretty much over. The EliteXC league was only in operation for 2008, folding as it was unable to garner a mass market audience.
  5. International Fight League was another MMA league that failed. It billed itself as the first Mixed Martial Arts league in the world, and didn’t manage to gain a wide following. It had a team format, opening in 2006 and closing in 2008. While Mixed Martial Arts is a fast-growing sport, and tournaments are televised, official leagues seem to have very limited success indeed, unable to gain a following. It seems as though people are more interested in watching individuals do MMA, rather than teams.
  6. All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was in effect from 1943 to 1954. It started as a softball league, and did not play regulation baseball until its final season (which was done in an effort to increase fan interest). The league started up during World War II as a way for baseball to remain in the public eye while many of the male baseball stars were serving in the military. Mostly popular in the Midwest, the AAGPBL faded and eventually fizzled out, leaving baseball dominated by the male game.
  7. WHAThe World Hockey Association was a North American league created in 1972 to compete with the National Hockey League. The WHA challenged the NHL, offering players higher pay, and creating an environment in which players could easily switch between leagues. The WHA was ultimately unstable, however, with teams folding. Throughout its history, the WHA was almost always engaged in legal battles with the NHL. In 1979 the NHL absorbed some of the WHA teams, and the WHA was no more.
  8. World Hockey AssociationAnother attempt to resurrect the World Hockey Association was made in 2003. The new WHA planned to provide a place for NHL players during the 2004-05 lockout. There was draft in 2004, and an invitational tournament, but the actual league failed to materialize. The second attempt at the WHA fizzled before it even started, a true failure.
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