10 American Sports Leagues You’ve Never Heard Of


As late as the 1980s boxing was one of the most popular sports in America. In a single generation, due to the drying up of youth participation, corruption, and a simple decay of interest, boxing became a shell of its former self. As the National Football League starts down the same road of self-destruction, which one of these leagues has positioned itself for the future?

10. National Rugby Football League


A U.S. based rugby league, its last champion was…

Okay, there are no champions. There are combines being held across the United States in 2015 to identify and secure contracts with players for the 2016 season. The teams are…

Wait, there are no teams either? Okay, here’s rugby’s free advertisement. If you love rugby, head on over to this website. And if you have a couple of million dollars to burn and access to an NFL stadium, feel free to contact RugbyLaw, LLC, a Minneapolis based Sports and Entertainment Company, and put your application in for a team. The Seattle TopTenz has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

9. United States Australian Football League


In the same way the NFL tries to plant seeds by playing games in London and Major League Baseball opens their season in Japan, the United States Australian Football League receives a small stipend from the Australian Football League. The New York Magpies won the 2014 Championships held in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, but it’s the Denver Bulldogs that have won half of the titles since the league’s inception in 1996.

To cultivate its vision of the future, the Australian Football League also inspires US Footy Kids, the American version of the AFL’s youth developmental program, Auskick. If you’re a kid, what’s not to like about Australian Rules Football, with teams with cool nicknames like the Fort Lauderdale Fighting Squids, the Atlanta Kookaburras and the Nashville Kangaroos?

8. Professional Inline Hockey Association and American Inline Hockey League


In 2002, the Professional Inline Hockey Association was formed with the belief that inline hockey was the next big American sport. As the sport grew, and the league was taking steps to find its niche, a major rift occurred between warring owner factions. The result was 19 teams splitting off and forming the American Inline Hockey League. Now instead of one struggling inline league, there are two.

Both leagues have pro and minor league divisions, with the PIHA’s 2014 championship winning Marple Gladiators taking home the Founders Cup. The AIHL’s last champion, the Long Island 495ers, took home the Champions Cup. Two champions about an hour and a half apart — nice job, inline skating.

7. Independent Women’s Football League, Women’s Football Alliance and Women’s Spring Football League


In the same way you’d think that inline skating would get its act together, there are actually three women’s football leagues in America. (Real football, not the Lingerie Football League. Wait, that’s still around? Re-branded the Legends Football League? Never mind, we’re not talking about that.)

The Independent Women’s Football League began in the year 2000 and has 35 teams across three tiers. In 2014, the Pittsburgh Passion won the Tier I championship 41-7 over the Houston Energy. Despite being the oldest of the three leagues, a number of teams from the IWFL have defected to the WFA. The Women’s Football Alliance is the largest league, with its champion being the Boston Militia. With 45 teams, the WFA formed in 2008, and a number of its teams over the years have defected to the WSFL.

The Women’s Spring Football League started in 2009 and has 11 and eight a-side divisions. Its latest champion is the Memphis Dynasty, with a number of its teams having defected to the IWFL over the past few years. (Seriously?)

6. American Ultimate Disc League and Major League Ultimate


The American Ultimate Disc League is played on a standard American football field. With an inaugural season of 2012 the league has quickly ballooned to 26 teams, with the San Jose Spiders being their most recent champions. The rules of Ultimate disc are… who cares, just watch this amazing video.

So you watched it and want to know more? Well, the AUDL is already looking to expand! If you have passion and a big pile of money lying in the corner of your home, you too can be an owner of a franchise!

The competing Major League Ultimate would argue that their eight teams are the epitome of quality over quantity, with the DC Current being its current champion, having beaten the Vancouver Nighthawks last year. Look for the leagues to merge, sue each other or both fold and re-emerge as a separate entity in the next few years.

5. World Team Tennis


One of these leagues is not like the others. The WTT will be celebrating its 40th Anniversary and is a fairly stable sports entity. Formed in 1973 (it went on hiatus for a few years), one of the founders was Larry King, whose wife at the time, Billie Jean King, was one of the greatest tennis players in history. By 1983, King had become the oldest woman to win a singles tournament (at the time). She then retired from singles play and promptly became the Commissioner of the WTT from 1984 to 2001.

The WTT is one of the few co-ed leagues out there, with the Washington Kastles having won the past four championships. Even those with a cursory knowledge of tennis know the Kastles’ two biggest stars: Venus Williams and Martina Hingis. Besides King, Williams and Hingis, some of the top players in the history of tennis — Chris Evert, John McEnroe, Serena Williams, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Lindsay Davenport — have all participated in the league. And to show how influential Billie Jean King remains in the sport, King’s partner Ilana Kloss took over as Commissioner of the WTT in 2001 and continues in that role today.

4. Women’s Flat Track Derby Association


The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association isn’t so much a league as it is a confederacy of roller derby entities. There are over 300 Full Member Leagues, mostly in America, and nearly 100 Apprentice Leagues. There are three dozen teams in Division 1, the highest level of roller derby. New York City’s Gotham Girls Roller Derby have been the champions of the WFTDA for the past four years. The WFTDA Championships have crowned the queens of roller derby since 2006, with the 2014 WFTDA Championship Tournament being held in Nashville in November. The Nashville Municipal Auditorium has a capacity of 9,000, but attendance figures for specific games are sketchy.

For those who worry that this incarnation of roller derby isn’t as good as the International Roller Skating League that lasted from 1977 to 1987, fear not. With recent Championship MVPs such as Bloody Mary, Sassy, Whipity Pow and Miss Fortune, it’s clear that the spirit of the sport has remained intact.

3. Major Arena Soccer League


For all your hardcore indoor soccer fans reading this, we’re going to try our darnedest to sort out this mess. The MASL is the Major Arena Soccer League. It’s in its first year of existence and has 23 teams. Oh wait, Hidalgo La Fiera dropped out in December 2014? Make that 22. Wait, the Seattle Impact dropped out in January 2015? Make that 21. Wait, the Tacoma Stars are replacing the Impact? Make it 22 again.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem plaguing MASL. In 2008 the Professional Arena Soccer League spun off from the Premier Arena Soccer League, the largest amateur indoor soccer league in North America. The PASL wobbled along, averaging under a thousand fans per game for five of the past six years. Then in 2014, the Major Indoor Soccer League folded and six teams joined PASL. With a renewed optimism for the future and a new name, the merged leagues had a 100% increase in attendance in one year, with the 2014 Ron Newman Cup drawing 3,969 fans.

If the MISL name sounds familiar to you, that’s because MISL I existed from 1978 to 1992, and MISL II existed from 2001 to 2008. And, if you weren’t confused enough, those leagues weren’t the only pro indoor soccer leagues. Don’t forget the NPSL (1984-2001), AISL (2003-2008), CISL (1993-1997) or even the XSL (2008-2009).

Returning to the MASL, its current defending champion is the Chicago Mustangs, who defeated the Cleveland Freeze (folded) to reach the finals, then defeated Hidalgo La Fiera (also folded) in the 2014 Newman Cup final 14-5. Apparently if you lose a key game you can kiss your franchise goodbye.

2. National Women’s Soccer League


The National Women’s Soccer League opened for business in 2013. There are currently eight teams in the league, with FC Kansas City being its current champion, beating the Seattle Reign FC 2-1 in front of 4,252 fans. A majority of the league’s games are available for viewing on YouTube, which shows the NWSL has some forward thinkers in the head office.

But here’s the NWSL’s problem: it replaced the Women’s Professional Soccer league, which ran from 2007 to 2012 but collapsed under financial strain. The WPS replaced WUSA, which ran from 2000 to 2003, but also collapsed under financial strain. What the NWSL needs to do is find a business model like Sweden’s Damallsvenskan, which has operated since 1988, or France’s Division 1 Feminine, which has operated since 1974.

1. Major League Lacrosse


Major League Lacrosse started in 2001, and every once in a while the games pop up on ESPN. Well, not usually ESPN, but ESPN3 or the CBS Sports Network. And despite national contracts with these channels, MLL doesn’t receive money, but rather exposure. The problems with MLL can be summed up by arguably their most successful franchise in league history, the Philadelphia Barrage. In 2007 the Barrage won their third MLL title in four years, but was forced to play its 2008 season as a travel team with no home games, only away games and games at sites of potential suitors. The Barrage folded in 2008.

Despite growing pains, over 8,000 fans witnessed the Denver Outlaws squeak by the Rochester Rattlers 12-11 in the 2014 Steinfeld Cup. The 2015 season is slated to start in April with eight teams, seven in the Eastern Time Zone and the aforementioned Denver franchise.

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1 Comment

  1. Good article. It is a shame that so many of these leagues squabble over petty differences And end up destroying themselves as a result.

    One note about Major League Lacrosse. Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in America. The increase in the number of players at the youth and high school level is well over 1000% in the past fifteen years. What was once a niche sport in upstate New York, Long Island, and metro Baltimore has become mainstream around the country. Through the league’s history some teams have failed to find a solid fan base. But others like Denver, Boston, and Charlotte consistantly get around 10,000 at every game.