(For three teams in three different spin off football leagues that need to come back, check out my article here)
Along with football, other team sports like basketball, hockey, baseball, and soccer have the biggest fan bases and viewership in the United States. Since their professional formations, each has grown steadily by capturing major markets and creating entertaining products.
However, America's sports appetite is massive. Fans are having withdrawals from watching games, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down team play. For other team sports, this is an opportunity to work on their product and gain more fans to appease the appetite. The ones listed below are ones that deserve to have the next big professional league with the others.
Did you know that rugby is the father of American football? That's right—football was just rugby before some Americans made slight rule changes to start their own sport. Even with its parentage to football, professional rugby in the United States has only gained major traction within the last few years thanks to Major League Rugby.
With only a young professional league, why should rugby be one of the team sports that deserves a big U.S. league compared to others? Besides the historical roots, many Americans play rugby. In fact, in 2018, there were 1.56 million participants in the country.
Rugby is also a very popular global sport with countries like New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England, and Japan having massive fan bases. America is a melting pot with many ties to these countries. With the past Rugby World Cup viewing numbers at 501 million (more than four times the 2020 Super Bowl), the sport can attract international audiences to watch both within and outside U.S. borders. More viewers/spectators means more money for players, more revenue/tourism for host cities, and more job creation as the league gets bigger.
Major League Rugby is headed in the right direction to make the sport a mainstay. With new expansion teams like the Dallas Jackals, and Los Angeles Giltinis, the league is now in more of America's top markets. While attendance across the league is still in its infancy with averages around 2,000-3,000 fans per match, the league is headed on the right track to making this sport resonate with more American fans.
For the player participation and international interest, rugby deserves to have the next big U.S. professional league.
Video Credit: Major League Rugby
Even older than rugby, lacrosse is a Native American sport that was first seen being played by explorers in the 1630s. For being an older sport, you would assume that lacrosse would be much bigger than it is today.
Currently, lacrosse has 829,423 participants in the United States. The sport is more popular on the East Coast, but it is quickly spreading to all parts of the states. While these numbers are good, three professional leagues seem to be keeping the sport back from its potential.
The National Lacrosse League is the biggest league that has 11 teams and an average attendance of 9,596 that watch its indoor play. Major League Lacrosse is the oldest outdoor lacrosse league with nine teams and an average attendance of 3,619. While these two have been around for more than ten years, the Premier Lacrosse League is a new outdoor league that travels from city to city and has averaged a little under 12,000 spectators. While these are great attendance numbers for each league, what would it be like if they combined forces to make one major league that refocused the sport and had all the top talent?
Think about it, if all three joined together, fans would be united under one league. Not only would it enhance support, but a united league would bring all the top players to one place. The league would also have 25 teams that spanned across the United States and Canada. I get that the National Lacrosse League is an indoor sport (catering to fans in the winter time), and therefore a different playing style, but even if the other two just combined, the sport would already be bigger than it is.
For being the oldest American sport and growing player participation, lacrosse deserves to have the next big U.S. professional league.
Photo Credit: Premier Lacrosse League
96% of NCAA colleges have a women's volleyball team. 516,371 high school boys and girls participate in the sport. Add on that the sport is exciting, intense, and fast (think about a spike from one of those players!), and volleyball is a great American team sport that deserves the next big U.S. professional league.
Even with these numbers and top tiered national teams (U.S. Men's Volleyball is currently ranked #3 while U.S. Women's Volleyball is ranked #2 in the world), no professional league exists for either gender. Multiple attempts have taken shape over the years including Major League Volleyball, the Western Women's Volleyball League, and the Premier Volleyball League, but none have lasted.
Photo Credit: Utah Unity, Premier Volleyball League
In 2021, a new indoor league will be taking another shot at bringing professional play to the states. With the sports' successful national team history, availability of top players from college programs, and major youth involvement, I think this league could last. If they can attract 2,000-3,000 fans on average in key cities at launch, the league could be like Major League Rugby and gradually grow into another powerhouse.
With exciting play and large participation, volleyball deserves to have the next big U.S. professional league.
The U.S. has great water polo national teams including a women's team that ranks #1 in the world and won the last two Olympic and World Championship gold medals. The men's team is currently ranked #9 in the world. The sport also has 44,210 high school students participating across the country and boasts close to 4,500 fans in attendance for men and women's NCAA Championship tournaments. While these are high national rankings and good numbers for a niche sport, America still does not have a professional water polo league.
Why should this sport deserve to explode at the professional level? The sport is great to watch. Growing up in Southern California, AKA water polo heaven, I went to a few high school matches during the season our boy's team won the regional championship. I did not expect much, but I was instantly hooked on the physical and fast-paced play. Afterwards, a few team members showed me the marks they had from the underwater fighting, and my respect for the sport soared. For this reason, water polo deserves to be big.
Even though it is great to watch, I admit that the sport still has a long way to go. While collegiate water polo teams seem to have great support, college fans do not always translate into professional fans. This is a good start though for a league's initial fan base to get off the ground.
While water polo is a longer shot to have a big U.S. professional league, I think it still deserves to have such a competition.
Photo Credit: Dianne Rose, For the Record
Who's The Next Major Sport?
Forming a professional sports league is hard—review what happened to the offshoot football leagues. Those did not make it even though they were playing America's favorite sport. Time, money, talent, and fan interest is always something that business owners have to weigh when thinking about growing a sport.
While some of these team sports are starting to gain professional traction, others have not started. Regardless, each of these sports deserves to have the next big U.S professional league either for their exciting atmospheres, competitive play, large participation, or historical roots.