When the Lingerie Football League began in 2009, a universal scoff rose from the critics. They thought it was sure to fold, like so many alternative pro leagues before it. Sure, it would draw some eyes at first merely for the T&A curiosity, but it wasn’t tenable. Well here we are three years later, and the LFL is now playing its first overseas games, as the Eastern and Western conference All-Stars will face off in Brisbane and Sydney in the coming days.
Meanwhile, pro football league the USFL is making a comeback. From 1983-87, this league proved to be a true alternative to the NFL. Future stars like Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Reggie White and Doug Flutie all got their pro starts here. It was a huge success on the field, but headstrong owners like Donald Trump bullied the league into directly competing with the NFL. This was a huge mistake. They even took the NFL to court. This was an even huger mistake, and led to the USFL’s downfall– gone before its time, but not forgotten. But now it’s getting a second lease on life.
Those success stories aside, we’re here to talk about those other black sheep leagues that didn’t get a second chance. Or did, and squandered that one, as well. Below are eight forgotten sports leagues, both ridiculous and promising, that just never caught on.
Credit: Tom Hauck/Getty Images
NBC partnered with WWE czar Vince McMahon to combine the steroid-enhanced brutality of pro wrestling with the steroid-enhanced brutality of the NFL. It was like America TIMES TWO, so why did it fail–and so fast? Lasting just one season, it boasted fewer rules, a scramble instead of a coin toss, no kicking for an extra point, no fair catches, even more scantily clad cheerleaders and He Hate Me. Fourteen million people watched the first game in February 2001. But after that, viewership declined due to the juco-level quality of play. Unlike other leagues on this list, the XFL was financially viable. But the lack of viewers and lack of respect in the sports media world led to its demise. The first and last league MVP Tommy Maddox notably went on to start for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Credit: Robert Mora/Getty Images
What can we say about this amazing idea that hasn’t already been said: it’s basketball on trampolines! What could possibly go wrong (besides horrifically gory leg injuries)? The sport first aired on Spike in 2002-03, before shuffling around and landing on Cartoon Network in 2008, which is so, so sad because how can you legitimately cater to sports fans by telling them to tune into the f***ing CARTOON NETWORK? “Catch all the high-flying tomahawk tramp-slams right after ‘Powerpuff Girls’ at 9!” Anyway, Slamball isn’t officially toast, it’s more in sports league purgatory. As in, they are “optimistic” that a new season will start “soon.” Good news, though: you can watch ENTIRE GAMES online!
If your sport’s “modern update” is to use rollerblades as opposed to roller skates, you know you’re in trouble. This unisex league aired on TNN and, according to this clip, one of the league’s stars was a creamed corn wrestling champion. Is it too late to add the Creamed Corn Wrestling League to this list? Our favorite YouTube comment from a Rollerjam video: “I have a few more [Rollerjam videos] but I think everyone has probably seen most of them before.” That is QUITE the assumption, guy.
Roller Hockey International (1993-99)
Credit: J. McIsaac/Bruce Bennett
Ah, was there a more ’90s sport than roller hockey? The most prominent league was Roller Hockey International. It aired on ESPN2 for a couple years back when the channel still used graffiti-style graphics, called itself The Deuce and covered fringe sports like the Lumberjack Games. According to the Wikipedia entry, RHI was known for “its unstable franchises and instability in the league’s front office.” Maybe that’s because it inexplicably had 24 teams? And we thought the NHL overextended itself.
Credit: Getty Images
Are you sitting down? Indoor soccer, through the National Professional Soccer League and its offspring the Major Indoor Soccer League, lasted 24 years! And we’re pretty sure this is the first time you’re hearing about them. Because, as we saw with the XFL, it all comes down to TV contracts. Save for some mid-2000s coverage on ESPN2 and Versus, indoor soccer was nowhere to be found, despite the fact that this version of soccer was bats*** crazy. There were two- and three-point goals. There were power plays. No offsides. This is everything we’ve always wanted to change about soccer! And yet the leagues still failed. That’s because soccer is inherently un-American. It’s the only logical explanation.
Xtreme Soccer League (2008-09)
XSL was the next iteration of the indoor soccer
craze vague-awareness, and we’re not sure what made it so “xtreme.” The XSL’s existence was announced at a press conference in Milwaukee, and if a Milwaukee press conference doesn’t suggest big-time, nothing does. Like Slamball, the XSL claims to only be on hiatus. We think our parents said the same thing about their marriage when we were little. We know how this ends.
American Basketball League (1996-98)
Credit: Robert W Stowell Jr/Getty Images
Did you know there once was a female basketball league competing with the WNBA? We know what you’re thinking: you’re pissed because all this time you could’ve had TWO leagues to satiate your hunger for layups and fundamentals. Anyway, it was called the ABL, and it was probably less terrible than you think. It got most of the players from America’s undefeated Olympic team and executed the USFL’s strategy of flash and high salaries. But, it was launched at the same time as the NBA-backed WNBA. That’s like Microsoft putting the Zune up against the iPod, and led to bankruptcy.
Women’s United Soccer Assoc. (2000-03)
Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
We all thought women’s soccer was a shoo-in after Brandi Chastain’s dramatic World Cup-winning PK and ensuing shirt-removal in 1999. YeahNO. In February 2000, the WUSA was founded, making it the world’s first pro women’s soccer league. Seemed like a great idea at the time. Welp, it folded after three seasons in September 2003, after losing about $100 million. Is it possible for something to be forgotten if its existence was never known? (By the way, fast forward to 2009, when the Women’s Professional Soccer league was created. The WPS folded this year after three seasons as well.)