Photo: AP Images
There are five professional sports organisations in this country that are above and beyond the rest: NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NASCAR.Despite the stronghold these leagues have on our nation’s fans, it hasn’t stopped newcomers from attempting to challenge them.
Both men’s and women’s soccer has also been tried a few times, never quite establishing itself.
Some, like the American Football League and American Basketball Association, were somewhat successful in that they ultimately merged with the bigger, better leagues.
Led by the stars of the New York Cosmos, the North American Soccer League never really took off even though it lasted for nearly two decades between the late 60s and mid 80s.
ageing superstars like Pele and Franz Beckenbauer were brought to the NASL in the 70s and 80s to play for the New York Cosmos in what was supposed to be the start of soccer craziness stateside. The Cosmos even tried, but failed, to bring a young Diego Maradona to the U.S.
Despite media excitement over the league, which began in 1968, it didn't last past the 1984 season as American fans never quite took to the world's version of football.
Source: NASL History
Playing games during the spring with future NFL stars like Jim Kelly and Steve Young meant the USFL was able to gain significant traction when it opened up shop in 1983. ABC and ESPN even signed up for a multimillion dollar TV deal.
Despite strong fan support, though, it began going downhill as owners could no longer pay off their debts after signing college stars like Herschel Walker to huge deals. Its death knell came when the USFL tried to go head-to-head with the NFL by playing its games in the fall. USFL owners sued the NFL for antitrust, claiming it had a monopoly over fall football and its television coverage. The upstart league won the lawsuit, but only collected $1 after seeking more than $500 million in damages.
The USFL couldn't solve its debt problems and officially folded in 1988, three years after its final season, but introduced the game to two-point conversions and instant replay challenges.
Source: Sports Illustrated
Hey Roger Goodell, American football in Europe has been tried before, just ask the two-year failure World League of American Football that folded in 1992.
The World League of American Football put teams in non-NFL North American markets and places like Barcelona and London.
Lackluster fan support led to its end in 1992 after only two seasons. It was replaced by the World League in 1995 and NFL Europe in 1998. Those two also failed at spreading American-rules football across the globe.
The NFL did successfully use the WLAF as a testing ground for helmet cameras and one-way radios for coaches and quarterbacks, however.
This female professional basketball league had the unfortunate luck of being created at the same time as the WNBA in 1996. The American Basketball League closed its doors in 1998.
American Basketball League tried to extend the excitement over the womens national basketball team into its own spinoff league.
Initially, it succeeded in bringing in more national team members than rival WNBA, but like the USFL, it's high player salaries were unsustainable and the league folded in 1998.
Source: American Basketball League
Wrestling tycoon Vince McMahon somehow convinced NBC, after it had lost its NFL deal, UPN, and TNN (since re-branded as Spike TV) to broadcast his new football league's games in 2001.
The short-lived league featured no penalties for roughness, mic'ed up players and coaches, scrambles instead of coin tosses, the encouragement that players date the scantily-clad cheerleaders, and silly team names like Outlaws and Xtreme.
Poor fan support did the XFL in after only one season.
We're not sure how anyone thought Slamball, a gimmicky trampoline version of basketball, could survive. And it didn't, dying out in 2003 after two seasons.
Slamball was 4-on-4 basketball played on a trampoline-enhanced court that allowed for full contact and basically was nothing more than dunks.
League organisers tried to recruit street ball players and even held a draft where potential players applied online.
Perhaps due to no one really wanting to sit in front of their television to watch an hour-long highlight reel, Slamball fizzled out by 2003, only two years into its existence.
The United States Women's success in the 1999 World Cup led to the Women's United Soccer Association two years later. It only lasted until 2004.
The hoopla the US Women's National team generated spawned the creation of a professional women's soccer league. Stars from the national team like Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and Julie Foudy were all part of the league's founding members.
With no permanent TV partner due to poor ratings and a proposed $40 million, five-year budget being spent in the first season of the league's operation, the WUSA lost $100 million after a three-year, lackluster run.
Source: Sports Business Journal
In 2009 Women's Professional Soccer filled the void left by WUSA, but had to suspend its 2012 season due to similar financial problems.
Despite women's professional soccer already failing once, a large enough group of people thought it was worth a second try.
The new league also fields players from the US national team along with international stars like Brazil's Marta, but the 2012 season was cancelled after a costly legal dispute with a team owner.
Like WUSA, WPA has struggled to fill stadiums, garner respectable TV ratings, or pick up very many sponsors.
The United Football League has been around since 2009, but like its alternative football predecessors, it'll probably cease to exist soon.
Unlike the XFL and USFL, the UFL has been much smarter about its approach. It's stuck with normal football rules, only gone to non-NFL markets, and doesn't fancy itself as a renegade NFL challenger.
Despite the presumably sound business plan, though, its 2011 season was cut short at the last minute due to financial issues. The league also lost its initial TV partner, Versus, and has had trouble finding a new one.
Technically, it still exists and plans to have a new season in 2012. We'll see if it lasts.
Source: Pro Football Talk
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