Top Failed Sports Leagues

We have seen our fair share of upstart sports leagues in the United States over the last several decades, and they have met with mixed success. While leagues like the AFL, ABA, WNBA, MLS, and WHA were successful, other leagues like the USFL, NASL, and XFL were largely failures. The AFL, ABA, and WHA eventually found success by merging with the more dominant leagues in their respective sports, but the WNBA and MLS went through a lot of growing pains before carving out a niche in the American sports consciousness and slowly growing it. That might not bode well for the new LIV Golf Tour, but the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia is backing the endeavor, and they have the deep pockets needed to sustain the early lean years that are intrinsic to new sports leagues.


The biggest challenge to the NFL since the AFL was the USFL. While the WFL and XFL had their brief moments in the sun, the USFL was able to bring in some big names and was pretty popular for a spring league. This league brought in star quarterbacks like Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Doug Williams, and Doug Flutie, and several players ended up being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. Unfortunately, the league burned through money and was unable to compete with the NFL after their lawsuit against the established league yielded no punitive damages.


In the 1970s, we repeatedly heard that soccer was going to take over in the United States. The NASL was founded in late 1967, and the league made a big push to expand into the US in the mid-1970s when Pele signed with the New York Cosmos. That move triggered a waterfall effect that saw other stars like Franz Beckenbauer, Eusebio, Gerd Muller, Bobby Moore, and Johan Cruyff head to America to try and go the game. The Cosmos did have some success in the New York market, but attendance elsewhere was dreary and that led to the league folding in 1984.


The most well-known failed sports league in recent memory is the XFL. Vince McMahon and NBC reportedly sunk $100 million into the XFL only for the league to last just one season before halting play. The XFL changed a lot of rules and took a lot of chances with its broadcast, so there was hope that this would be a league that could establish itself in the Spring. However, the league lost $35 million in just a few months, and everyone considered the endeavor a humongous failure.

What Will be the Fate of the LIV Golf Invitational Series?

There has been a lot of negative press surrounding the formation of LIV Golf due to some of Saudi Arabia’s recent actions. However, many golfers have jumped at the chance to join a less restrictive league that is offering a lot more money to its players. Dustin Johnson is the biggest name that has joined the breakaway league so far, but Phil Michelson, Sergio Garcia, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Abraham Ancer, and others are prominently involved too.

The LIV Golf organizers seem to be under no aspersions that they will turn a profit any time in the near future, and they are taking the same attitude that many Middle Eastern owners and wealth funds have towards their football clubs. We have seen Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain blow through hundreds of millions of Euros to establish themselves as brand names, and LIV Golf looks set to follow this model. Patience and deep pockets are the two most important traits to have in new leagues, and that bodes well for the long-term future of LIV Golf.

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