5 Professional Football Leagues That Couldn’t Compete With the NFL

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The National Football League has monopolized the attention of football fans across the country for quite some time. Formed in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association (APFA) before changing its name in 1922, the league has seen tremendous success in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

While the NFL boasts of incredible talent and lucrative revenue, there have been several attempts at forming other football leagues to rival the most prestigious and profitable sport in America. And they have all failed to knock the NFL off its throne.. The following five football leagues tried to compete with the NFL but failed miserably.

World League of American Football

While the World League of American Football, later renamed the NFL Europe League, was established to expand the reach of the National Football League rather than compete with it, the six-team spring league never took off.

Operating for 16 years from between 1991-2007, NFL Europe was designed to do three things: to provide a learning experience for new coaches and players to improve their skills; serve as a catalyst to push American-style football across Europe; and to give die-hard NFL fans a type of minor league outlet prior to the NFL season.. Despite the leagues’ best efforts, it just wasn’t in the cards. NFL Europe would end up costing the league $30 million a year.

Arena Football League

Founded in 1987, the Arena Football League actually enjoyed quite a bit of mainstream success. It was established as a cheaper alternative for football fans who wanted to experience live action but couldn’t afford the cost of attending an NFL game.

Not only was the field about a quarter of the size of an NFL field, the game was governed by a set of rules that favored the offense. The formula worked, and the league grew until it was disbanded in 2019.. While it was the third-longest professional football league in North America after the Canadian Football League (CFL), a labor dispute in 2009 halted momentum. The league was never able to recover.

United States Football League

The ideas behind the United States Football League were formulated by New Orleans businessman David Dixon in 1965. Founded in 1982, the USFL ran from 1983 to 1985 and was held during the spring/summer months when major stadiums were not in use.

While the league was fairly successful during those three years, it met its demise due to the decisions of New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump. He convinced team owners to move the start of the 1986 season to the fall in direct competition with the NFL.. A failed attempt to merge with the NFL following a lawsuit that awarded the USFL a mere $3 forced the league to cease all operations and disband immediately.

Alliance of American Football

Twenty-five years following the USFL’s attempt to create a spring/summer football league, NBC executive Charlie Ebersol and Hall of Fame NFL executive Bill Polian founded the Alliance of American Football in 2018.

The eight-team league had franchises in seven metropolitan areas in the southern and western United States which had at least one professional sports program. The AAF played just eight of its scheduled 10 games, before controlling owner Thomas Dundon suspended operations on April 2.. The league filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy just two weeks later, with its lone season left incomplete.


While WWE CEO Vince McMahon wanted to name his new venture the Xtreme Football League, the name was already in use by a smaller league. He decided on the name “XFL,” saying the “X” stood for anything but the NFL.

While the original XFL lasted just one season in 2001, it made a comeback in 2020, debuting the Sunday after the NFL’s Super Bowl. While opening weekend saw better-than-expected ratings, viewers quickly dropped off. The league emulated the WWE way too much for their liking.. Although the league might have operated for an entire season, the coronavirus pandemic eliminated the opportunity. The XFL ended up filing for bankruptcy in April with liabilities ranging from $10 to $50 million.