Most leagues fail within their first year of operation. If they survive long enough to hand out their inaugural championship, then they usually face other elements of strife, such as low attendance, trouble landing a TV broadcasting deal, and teams folding or relocating. The waters are rough, but if a leagues treads long enough, it just may endure. Here are the top 5 defunct sports leagues and their intriguing stories:
#5: X Football League
Because the NFL just wasn’t fun enough, along came the XFL from World Wrestling Entertainment mogul Vince McMahon. Ironically, while most believe the ‘X’ stood for eXtreme, this is not actually the case and the ‘X’ was never defined. In partnership with NBC, the league only lasted one season. With a few rule changes that were meant to spice up pro football, the eight-team league was dogged by the stigma attached to professional wrestling and what many thought was an inferior quality of play. Ratings were initially strong, but dropped in half from week one to week two and continued to decline over the course of the year. The XFL fizzled out following the season-ending Million Dollar Game and closed up shop on May 10, 2001. Both McMahon and NBC reportedly lost $35 million each in the joint venture.
A sport with trampolines and full body contact… sounds like a recipe for success to the Sip Advisor and the one time in my life I was mildly interested in the sport of basketball. When TNN (now Spike TV) was making strides to change its image from a country music station to a network geared towards male viewers, one of their early experiments was SlamBall. Unfortunately, the league only ran seasons in 2002, 2003 and 2008, but did hold an international tournament in 2012, in China. Created by Mason Gordon, SlamBall grew from six to eight teams for the 2003 season, but a disagreement between Gordon and Warner Bros. ended with the league being dissolved. The 2008 season returned to a six-team format and the winning coach was Samuel L. Jackson… er, I mean Coach (Ken) Carter.
#3: Roller Hockey International
The early 90’s were a wonderful time and part of that amazing period was the advent and popularity of rollerblades. So, along comes the RHI, hoping to capitalize on that fad. Games were even broadcast on ESPN2 during the early years, showing the potential popularity the sport could have harnessed. The high-scoring (RHI averaged 16.7 goals per game, compared to the NHL’s seven at the time) league played from 1993-97 and also in 1999. Played 4-on-4, a number of NHL alum also strapped on the blades, including Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier. Unfortunately, a planned Super Nintendo video game never materialized, although that fact probably saved me hours in front of the TV and instead, I was outside playing roller hockey! RHI folded operations for good in 2001, despite some of the best team names ever seen in sport.
#2: United States Football League
Looking to compete with the NFL and offer fans an alternative to fill their growing football needs, the USFL may not have succeeded, but many of the innovations they brought to the game, as well as markets they used for franchises, would eventually be adopted by the NFL juggernaut. Backed by Donald Trump and others with deep pockets, the league produced a number of stars who also enjoyed success in the NFL, as well as two future wrestling World Champions in Lex Luger and Ron Simmons. The crushing blow to the USFL came when they filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, claiming it had established a monopoly. Despite expecting a substantial windfall, the USFL was awarded $1 (that’s not a typo). Heavily in debt, the league ceased operations. The ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary Who Killed the USFL? examines the league’s brief existence.
#1: World Hockey Association
Launching in 1972 with 12 teams, the WHA made an immediate big splash with the signing of NHL star Bobby Hull to a 10-year, $2.7 million contract. In all, 67 players jumped ship from the NHL to the WHA for the inaugural season. Sadly, the league was plagued with difficulties, including financial struggles, arena issues, teams relocating, and franchises folding. Four WHA franchises still exist in today’s NHL: the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets (moved to Phoenix), Quebec Nordiques (moved to Colorado), and Hartford Whalers (moved to Carolina). The league’s legacy also lives on via European stars coming to North America, higher salaries, and a lower draft age. For an in-depth look at the WHA’s seven tumultuous seasons, check out Ed Willes book, The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association.
Super Saturday Shot Day: False Start
- 0.4 oz Cider
- 0.4 oz Bourbon
- 0.4 oz Brandy
- Splash of Lemon Juice
- Garnish with an Apple Slice
Honourable mentions include the American Basketball Association, which was loosely spoofed in the Will Ferrell film Semi-Pro, and the Arena Football League, which cancelled their 2009 season, but has since been resurrected under new ownership. Which defunct sports league do you miss?
Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4 Sips out of 5):
This shooter went down very easy and was fun thanks to the bubbles of the Cider. The Bourbon and Brandy flavours do play a role, but not too aggressively. That makes for a couple good Cider recipes for me in the last little while and I might be experiencing a change of heart as far as the beverage goes!