We Got Defunct: Seven of America’s Most Awesomely Bad Failed Professional Sports Leagues by Conor McKeon
What it was: The XFL was the first professional sports league to combine the edginess and “in your face” attitude of professional wrestling with the depression-inducing mediocrity of low-level Division III college football.
Why they thought it would work: The WWE’s popularity was at a fever pitch at the time of its inception, and really, when a guy’s got enough performance enhancing drugs pumping through his bloodstream to make a 90-year-old do pushups, he can be convinced that pretty much anything is a good idea.
Where it went wrong: A 19-0 score in the first televised game was a bad sign, a season-ending shoulder injury during a game’s “opening scramble” (don’t ask) was even worse, but the proverbial nail in the Undertaker’s coffin was the kicker winning the MVP of their version of the Super Bowl.
What we learned: I’ll tell you what we didn’t learn, who the He in He Hate Me is. Seriously, that’s pretty much the 21st century version of Deep Throat.
What it was: Slamball was invented by Mason Gordon after Gordon decided the one thing professional sports was really missing was an exponentially increased potential for horrifying freak accidents.
Why they thought it would work: Slamball was going to bring the excitement of video games to life.
Where it went wrong: Slamball brought the boredom of watching your friends play videogames to life.
What we learned: With the possible exception of George Costanza, who lives to frolf, most can agree that history shows sports aren’t like Ben and Jerry’s flavors. You can’t just throw a bunch of different things together and expect it to work.
UPSL (United Professional Softball League)
What it was: You know that thing you do with your coworkers every Thursday night while getting super hammered? Pretty much that, except someone was paying them to do it.
Why they thought it would work: They probably didn’t, but the APSPL and NASL had recently folded and they still had a ton of leftover acronym ideas they didn’t want going to waste.
Where it went wrong: Someone decided to make a professional slow pitch softball league.
What we learned: Even leagues with top-notch team names like the Kentucky Bourbons and Milwaukee Schlitz are still susceptible to financial failure.
What it was: Elite XC was the first MMA organization to broadcast fights in primetime after striking a deal with CBS , because nothing says extreme martial arts like the television home of Andy Rooney.
Why they thought it would work: (See XFL, The.)
What went wrong: EliteXC heavily promoted YouTube sensation Kimbo Slice, but when he was knocked out by a replacement fighter on national television, things got dicey, which, in the MMA world, means someone was probably castrated.
What we learned: When you hitch your company’s wagon to the back of someone who is pretty much contractually obligated to be referred to as a “YouTube sensation,” things tend to not go well. EliteXC’s strategy was the equivalent of a record company putting the “Chocolate Rain” kid as the face of their promotional campaign.
Xtreme Soccer League
What it was: An indoor soccer league which began play in late 2008, the XSL was the latest in the long line of professional sports leagues that were too Xtreme for both the letter ‘e’ and financial success.
Why they thought it would work: Admit it, when you saw “Xtreme” in the title, your mind initially jumped to all sorts of conclusions. Maybe the ball is filled with radioactive waste, maybe the losing goalie is subject to firing squad, who knows? The point is you’re intrigued, and that’s all they ever wanted.
What went wrong: Turns out the most extreme thing to have happened in the entire history of the XSL was that time a spectator drank a bottle of Mountain Dew during a game. (But, in their defense, it was a Mountain Dew Code Red! Whoa!)
What we learned: It doesn’t matter if you put it indoors, outdoors, on a volcano, in space, or on Scarlett Johansson, most Americans don’t want to watch soccer.
What it was: The Jim Morrison of failed sports leagues, the USFL packed as much action, drama and tragedy as it possibly could into its relatively short life span before it was buried in a Paris graveyard where it will now rest forever next to NFL Europe.
Why they thought it would work: Like a pack of antelope cautiously drinking from the other end of the water hole from the lions, the USFL specifically avoided the NFL by playing their games during the spring and summer months.
What went wrong: Donald Trump showed up and convinced everyone to insult the lions’ mothers.
What we learned: Rational people learned you do not mess with the NFL. Irrational people like Michael Dwyer, the president and founder of the “New USFL” which is set to launch in 2011, learned jack squat.
What it was: A women’s professional soccer league hoping to cash in on the momentum of America’s victory in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.)
Why they thought it would work: Brandi Chastain’s Bizarro Sue Ellen Mischke moment (for those keeping track, that’s Seinfeld reference #2) catapulted the sport into a whole new stratosphere of American athletic prominence, a stratosphere better known as “mild relevance.”
What went wrong: Here’s a pretty simple equation to sum up why it failed. The WNBA – The NBA + MLS = WUSA.
What we learned: Contrary to what the iconic Chastain image may suggest, women’s soccer players don’t wear just bras while playing, and that collective sigh you heard about .36 seconds into the first WUSA game was the sound of 98% of the male audience figuring this out.
Conor McKeon works for Conor McKeon works for SportsPickle, a weekly sports satire site.