The History of Professional Sports

A timeline of the events that shaped professional sports through the years.  

This page is a work in progress with new information added as we expand.

Football

1970's

1970: After 4 years of the rival leagues competing against each other in the Super Bowl, the AFL and NFL merge into one league

1971

1972

1973

1974: World Football League

The WFL was announced with the intention of bringing football to a global market. The timing of the league seemed perfect as both NFL and CFL players were threatening a strike. The global mission ended before it started when the Toronto Northmen were prohibited from playing in Canada and all teams were located in the US for the first season. Despite the setback, plans remained to expand to Europe and Asia in future seasons. Some players left the NFL for the WFL, while others who were unable to get out of their contracts signed “future contracts”.

The league proved to be a disaster from the beginning. As a result of some future contracts many players were paid huge amounts without ever playing a game. In the first season, multiple teams had financial problems and folded or moved during the season. At the first and only World Bowl, cash was brought out with armed guards to give to the winning team because players knew any checks they received would bounce. The champion Birmingham Americans were so deep in debt themselves, that team property was seized on site following the game. The WFL would fold midway through the second season in 1975.

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Online: worldfootballleague.org, Fun While It Lasted

Social Media: World Football League on Facebook

1975

1976

1977

1978

1979

1980's

1980

1981

1982

1983: United States Football League

What was originally planned as a lower budget spring league, became something else entirely. Big names and personalities bought into the league including Donald Trump who owned the New Jersey Generals and Burt Reynolds, a partial owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits. While some owners stuck to the original plan, huge contracts were soon being thrown around attracting college stars and NFL players. Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Reggie White, Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie were just some of the notable players who joined the USFL.

The league expanded quickly and in 1986 the USFL attempted to move to the fall to compete directly with the NFL. The move was led by Trump, whose plan depended on a lawsuit against the NFL with the hope of a huge settlement or merger. Although the USFL won the lawsuit, it was only awarded $1 and the league was forced to fold. The USFL has a lasting impact today in the form of player salaries, expansion cities, the use of instant replay and 2 point conversions.

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Books: Football For a Buck

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Online: Fun While It Lasted

Social Media: The USFL Project

Film: ESPN 30 For 30 Small Potatoes: Who Killed The USFL?

1984

1985

1986: Indoor Football

In 1986, the first indoor football game was played as a test game. A second showcase game was held before the Arena Football League launched in 1987. For the first 20 years, the AFL held a patent on the rules of this new version of football for, but dozens of indoor leagues have come and gone with various different rules.

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Online: arenafan.com, Fun While It Lasted

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1987: NFL players strike. Many former USFL players fill in as replacement players.

1988

1989

1990's

1990

1991: World League of American Football

WLAF was established as a spring league to expand the game of football globally. In the inaugural season, teams were established in 5 countries across North America and Europe. Future plans included possible expansion into Russia and Japan. In the US, attendance was low and the league was seen as a minor league by many. As a result, the league shut down after the 1992 season to restructure. WLAF returned in 1995 with all teams located in Europe and in 1998 would rebrand as NFL Europe. With a focus of being a developmental league for the NFL, European fans felt they were getting an inferior product and attendance struggled. In the later years the league was losing $30 million a year and was eventually shut down in 2007.

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Online: Fun While It Lasted, worldleagueofamericanfootball.com

1992

1993: The Canadian Experiment

With the collapse of WLAF in the United States, the CFL made a bold move and allowed a number of American teams to enter the league. The move had problems from the beginning, starting with the summer schedule. Extremely hot temperatures in many cities hurt attendance and the overlap with the college and NFL schedules led to disinterest from American fans towards the end of the season. Many stadiums had modified fields because they could not fit a larger Canadian football field and American owners were constantly petitioning for rule changes more similar to the American game.
One bright spot was the Baltimore Stallions which made it to the Grey Cup in both of their seasons and won a championship in 1995. With teams beginning to fold due to financial problems, the remaining US teams became more isolated from the rest of the league. The difficult travel combined with a variety of problems led to the experiment being scrapped after the 1995 season.

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1994

1995: Expansion

The expansion is best known for the creation of the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars. What many don’t know is that there were a number of other teams in play. The Memphis Hound Dogs, Baltimore Bombers and St. Louis Stallions had all been proposed. Shortly after, the CFL became so concerned about an NFL expansion team in Toronto that the leagues reached a partnership deal in 1997.

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1996

1997

1998

1999

2000's

2000

2001: The Original XFL

In 1999 Vince McMahon attempted to buy the CFL and move teams to the US again. McMahon was denied and as a result, the XFL was born. The league was a joint venture between what is now the WWE and NBC and games were played in the spring. The 2001 XFL was highlighted as a more violent brand of football with extreme personalities. To accomplish this a coin toss was replaced with a scramble for the ball, fair catches were not allowed and players were encouraged to wear nicknames on their jerseys. There were also a number of innovative camera angles including on field camera men and the skycam that is still used today.

After an extensive advertising campaign, the first weekend had outstanding ratings. Unfortunately, the games were marred by poor play and ratings tanked in the second week. The more violent rules led to a number of injuries and only three of the original starting quarterbacks finished the season. By the end of the season fans had lost interest in the league and it folded after just one season.

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Film: ESPN 30 for 30 This Was The XFL

Online: Fun While It Lasted

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009: United Football League

The UFL was founded on more of a gamble than a business plan. With only 4 teams, made up of mostly former NFL players, the league played its games in the fall to directly compete with the NFL. The league's success banked on the 2011 NFL season. It seemed likely that the NFL and NFL Players Association would not be able to come to an agreement and the season would be shortened or cancelled altogether. This would leave the UFL as the only professional football league that season, meaning the possibility of big television deals and the ability to sign star NFL players.

While there was a lockout in 2011, all was resolved over the summer and the NFL season went on as planned. This was catastrophic for the UFL and the 2011 season was shortened. After just 4 games, a championship game and third place game were played, ending the season. The league returned in 2012, but lasted only another 4 games. Plans to finish the schedule in the spring fell through and the league folded.

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Baseball

1900's

1900

1901

1902

1903: The National Agreement

In the early days of baseball, there were a number of leagues which played at the major league level. In 1903 the two largest leagues, The National League and American League, formed a National Agreement. This created an association to oversee all of baseball. Not only would this association serve as a mediator between the leagues, it would ensure both leagues that no competing league could rise to their level. In response, many of the smaller leagues at the time also joined the agreement as the “National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues” which later became Minor League Baseball. .

The National and American leagues would become the only two major leagues recognized by this association. The champion of each league would meet every year in the "World Series" to determine the true champion at the major league level.

1904

1905: The Negro Leagues

People of color were generally banned from both major and minor league baseball in the 1800's, giving rise to various "negro leagues". The National Agreement of 1903 gave a full control to the National and American Leagues over baseball, which only strengthened the color barrier. As a result, the Negro Leagues began to take off in the early 1900’s. In the beginning, leagues were scattered throughout the country and often folded after only a few seasons. The leagues did not become well organized until the 1920's, making it difficult to track teams and players before that time.

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1906

1907

1908

1909

1910's

1910

1911

1912

1913: The Federal League

The Federal League began play in 1913 as a third major league. While playing at the major league level, it remained independent and refused to join the association formed by the National and American Leagues. The Federal League paid higher salaries and many players left the established leagues to join. The National and American Leagues began to interfere with what many referred to as the “outlaw league”. As a result, the Federal League sued the leagues for having created a monopoly over professional baseball.

The case was brought to federal judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis in 1914, however Landis reserved judgment. Without a ruling being made, the Federal League folded after the 1915 season due to financial problems. Landis was then hired by the same association he refused to rule on. In 1920, Landis became the first Commissioner of Baseball while still serving as a federal judge. The association that would later become known as Major League Baseball became more powerful than ever.

1914

1915

1916

1917

1918

1919: The Chicago White Sox intentionally lose the World Series in a betting scandal known as the Black Sox Scandal.

1920's

1920: The Negro National League

In 1920 the Negro National League is formed in what would prove to be the first stable African American league at the major league level. The league would last until 1931 when it folded during the Great Depression.

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1921

1922: Federal Baseball Club v. National League

In 1922, the ownership of the former Federal League finally got their case in Supreme Court alleging the National and American Leagues had created a monopoly over professional baseball. However, the association they were suing now had the judge from the previous trial (Kennesaw Mountain Landis) serving as its commissioner. Additionally, Landis had only stepped down as a federal judge less than two months prior to this new case. In a baffling decision, the court ruled that baseball is exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Act which regulates business competition.  

1923: Eastern Colored League

The Eastern Colored League is established at the major league level and becomes a competitor to the Negro National League. The champion of each league would face off in the first version of the Negro World Series until 1927.

1924

1925

1926

1927

1928

1929

1930's

1930

1931

1932: After the Negro National League folded the previous year, the East-West League takes its place. The league only plays a partial season as the conditions of the Great Depression prove too difficult.

1933: Negro National League II

A new major league is formed 2 years after the original Negro National League folded. While it takes the same name, there is no relation to the original league. The league would last until 1948, one year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. 1933 also begins the tradition of the East-West All Star Game; an annual all star game exclusively for players in the Negro Leagues.

1934

1935

1936

1937: The Negro American League

Another major league is formed as a competitor to the Negro National League. The league would last until 1962, long after the integration of baseball. Beginning in 1942, the champion of the Negro American league would play the champion of the Negro National League in a new version of the Negro World Series.

1938

1939

1940's

1940

1941

1942: The Kansas City Monarchs sweep the Homestead Grays in the first World Series played between the two new leagues.

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1943

1944

1945

1946

1947: Integration in Baseball

Jackie Robinson plays for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the National League on April 15, 1947; breaking the color barrier. As a result, both the National and American Leagues begin to integrate in the following years as the Negro Leagues fade away. Lost in this historic event is the true talent of the Negro Leagues. Robinson had already been an all star at the major league level while playing for the Kansas City Monarchs. Negro League teams would finish the era with a winning record against MLB teams in exhibitions.

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1948

1949

1950's

1950

1951

1952

1953: Baseball’s Browns

For the first half of the 20th century, the St Louis Cardinals were not the only team in town. The Browns were actually the most popular team in the city during the early part of the century. Unfortunately, the baseball team was known for being just as bad as the football team of the same name. In 1944, the Browns made their only World Series appearance which happened to be against the rival Cardinals. The Browns lost in 6 games and would never field a competitive team again. It became clear St. Louis could not support 2 teams and following their final season in 1953, the Browns were sold.

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1954

1955: The Original Battle of the Bay Ends

Long before the Giants and A’s, the Bay Area had two iconic baseball teams for more than 50 years. The Oakland Oaks and San Francisco Seals were both formed in 1903. The golden age of the rivalry spanned the 1940’s and 50’s when the teams combined for 8 championships in 14 years. With struggling attendance, the Oaks were sold following the 1955 season putting an end to the rivalry. Two years later, the Seals played their final season and were forced to move when the New York Giants announced their move to San Francisco.

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1956

1957

1958

1959: The Continental League

The Continental League was announced in 1959 as a third major league. The proposed league was set to begin in 1961 with Branch Rickey as its president and would join Major League Baseball. Teams were to be placed in 8 regions: New York, Houston, Toronto, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, Dallas- Ft. Worth, Buffalo and Atlanta. The World Series would consist of a round robin tournament between the champions of each league.

The National and American Leagues had not been threatened by a competing league in over 40 years and responded by quickly expanding. The American League moved a team to Minneapolis for the 1960 season and added another in Los Angeles for the 1961 season. The National League announced new teams would play in 1962 in Houston and New York. Making things worse, the New York ownership group bailed from the Continental League and accepted an offer to own the New York franchise in the National League. With many of the planned cities taken and the important New York ownership group gone, the Continental League folded in 1960 without ever playing a game.

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1960's

1960: Old and New Senators

The Washington Senators were an historic baseball team in the DC area. The original team folded in 1899 and soon after, a new team of the same name took its place in 1901. Following the 1960 season, the team was allowed to move Minneapolis in an attempt to block the Continental League. Washington DC was now without a team, so an expansion team was created. In one of the most bizarre scenarios in sports history, the 1961 expansion Senators had the same name and played in the same stadium as the 1960 team, but were a completely different team.

The new Senators struggled both on and off the field. With financial problems mounting, the team would move and rebrand following the 1971 season. However, this strange team could not leave quietly. Leading 7-5 in their final game with 2 outs in the 9th, a fan literally stole first base. The game was then forfeited, giving the Senators the loss and a fitting end to the 80 year history of the Senators.

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1961

1962: The Gun That Won the West

The Colts were named after the Colt 45 pistol, a name chosen by fans. While they were technically an expansion team, the Houston Buffaloes had essentially moved up from the minor league to the major league level. With the Buffaloes front office intact, the team participated in an expansion draft and had a new roster to go along with the new name. The team played in a temporary stadium, never had a winning record and had little fan support. As a result, the team was completely rebranded when their stadium was completed following the 1964 season.

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1963

1964

1965

1966

1967

1968

1969: The One and Done Pilots

One of baseball’s strangest teams, the Seattle Pilots played just one season. The team was scheduled to play in 1971, but with another expansion team in Kansas City beginning play in 1969, the Pilots joined the league 2 years early. The Pilots had no stadium and were forced to play at Sick’s Stadium, an aging run down stadium barely equipped for a minor league team. The team struggled on the field, fans didn’t show up and it became clear the team could not continue. The ownership group declared bankruptcy following the season and the team was sold.

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1970's

1970

1971

1972

1973: The Portland Mavericks

After the second iteration of the Portland Beavers left the previous year, actor Bing Russell saw a huge opportunity in Portland. He created the only independent team in professional baseball at the time and held open tryouts. Players flocked from all over the country to try out for the team which was built on the basis of fun. The team was not only popular, but successful on the field, making it to the league championship series in each of its final three seasons.

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Film: The Battered Bastards of Baseball

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Online: portlandmavericksbaseball.com

1974

1975

1976

1977

1978: Portland Beavers III

After the success of the Mavericks, a new Portland Beavers team took their place. It was the third baseball team to use the Beavers name and cannot match the success of the Mavericks. By 1993 the team was gone and a fourth team and final team would use the Beavers name in 2001.

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1979

1980's

1980

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985: Two Empty Stadiums

The National League announced plans to expand by 2 teams with finalist cities as: Buffalo, Charlotte, Denver, Miami, Nashville, Orlando, Phoenix, Sacramento, Tampa- St. Petersburg and Washington DC. In Buffalo and St. Petersburg, major league caliber stadiums were immediately built in hopes of getting a team. A minor league team would be placed in Buffalo, while it became clear Florida will definitely receive a major league team. In 1991, the cities were announced as Denver and Miami. Rumors are the Seattle Mariners will move to the St. Petersburg stadium, but in 1992 it is officially announced the San Francisco Giants will move there. The move is blocked by owners, however and baseball would not be played in the stadium until 1998.

1986

1987

1988

1989

Hockey

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Basketball

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  • Timeline of Major Professional Football Leagues
  •  
  •  
  • Canadian Football League: 1909-present
  •  
  • National Football League: 1920-present

All-America Football Conference: 1946-1949

  • American Football League: 1959-1970

  • World Football League: 1974-1975

  • United States Football League: 1983-1985

  • World League of American Football: 1991-1992, 1995-2007
  •  
  • XFL: 2001

  • United Football League: 2009-2012

  • Alliance of American Football: 2019
  •  

Timeline of Major Professional Baseball Leagues

 

National League: 1876-1999

American League: 1901-1999

Federal League: 1913-1915

Negro National League I: 1920-1931,

Eastern Colored League: 1923-1928

American Negro League: 1929

East West League: 1932

Negro National League II: 1933-1948

Negro American League: 1937-1960

Continental League of Professional Baseball Clubs : 1961 (proposed)

Major League Baseball: 2000-present

Timeline of Major Professional Hockey Leagues

 

National Hockey Association: 1910-1918

Pacific Coast Hockey Association: 1911-1924

National Hockey League: 1917-present

Western Canada Hockey League: 1921-1925

World Hockey Association: 1972-1979

Timeline of Major Professional Basketball Leagues

 

National Basketball League: 1937-1949

Basketball Association of America: 1946-1949

American Basketball League: 1925–1955

National Basketball Association 1949- present

National Professional Basketball League: 1950-1951

American Basketball League: 1961-1962

American Basketball Association: 1967-1976