I call them fringe sports, because they appeal to a niche audience on the fringes of professional sports. Some eventually break through to a larger mainstream audience, such as professional beach volleyball or the X Games. But most toil in obscurity.
Here are my picks for the top 10 oddest professional sports today:
1. Lingerie football
The Lingerie Football League combines tackle football and gorgeous women in bikini lingerie. It’s an odd mix of sports and sex appeal that looks pretty entertaining.
This year, game highlights are being shown Friday nights on MTV2. Last year, during the league’s inaugural season, games were on pay-per-view only. So far, ratings are good, according to the LFL. But getting respect for this new sport will be a bigger challenge.
From what I’ve seen, the women are all attractive, but the best teams have one or two players that are muscular beasts. They’re usually running backs that can plow through the more feminine, classically pretty players. So LFL teams have to balance having the hottest women vs. having the best athletes.
2. Competitive eating
Competitive eating is a sport based on gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins.
The winner is whoever can stuff the most food down their throats in the allotted time. I’ve seen a Major League Eating hot-dog eating contest and it was pretty gross. Contestants, known as “gurgitators,” generally eat the buns and franks separately. They dunk the buns in water, Gatorade or whatever to make them easier to swallow. It gets really messy.
A competing organization, the Association of Independent Competitive Eaters, uses “picnic style rules.” Under picnic rules, players have to “respect the food” – so no dunking of hot dog buns in water.
Contests can involve eating practically any food: hamburgers, spicy chicken wings, baked beans, pancakes, pizza, oysters, jalapeños, etc.
3. Professional video game playing
Major League Gaming is a professional video game league. Other pro video game tournaments and leagues include the Cyberathlete Professional League and World Cyber Games.
These groups are trying to elevate the couch potato pastime of playing video games into a respected professional sport or e-sport.
If competitive eating is based on the deadly sin of gluttony, then pro video gaming is based on the deadly sin of sloth.
Table tennis, or ping-pong, is a sport more popular in China than the U.S. But table-tennis equipment maker Killerspin is working its butt off to get professional ping-pong to take off in the States.
There’s no denying the skill of the top-flight players, such as Biba Golic of Serbia (pictured). But to me it’s a game that belongs more in basement rec rooms than in arenas with throngs of cheering fans.
But if ping-pong takes off as a pro sport, expect foosball and air hockey to be close behind.
5. Beer pong
Just as equipment maker Killerspin is promoting ping-pong as a pro sport, BPong.com is trying to do the same with the drinking game beer pong.
BPong.com sells beer pong tables, cups, balls and other items. It’s the sponsor the World Series of Beer Pong, held each January in Las Vegas. The winning team gets $50,000.
Do we really want our sports heroes to be guys who can accurately toss ping-pong balls into cups of beer?
6. Pole dancing
Founded in 2008, the United States Pole Dance Federation is the first organization in the U.S. to host professional pole dancing competitions based on a fair judging format. The federation presents pole dancing as a competitive sport in a theater setting where people can truly appreciate the art of pole dancing.
The judges have extensive backgrounds in gymnastics, fitness, professional dance and choreography, and aerial work. They use a professional scoring system to rate dancers’ routines. The USPDF is trying to elevate pole dancing from its strip-club beginnings. That could save male fans a lot of dollar bills.
7. Rock paper scissors
The United States of America Rock Paper Scissors League, now sponsored by Amp Energy drinks, has turned the simple hand sign game of rock paper scissors into a competitive sport. The league was founded in January 2006.
The most recent competition was held in March in Acapulco during Spring Break. Fourteen student-athletes from across the U.S. gathered in Mexico to face off for $25,000 in tuition money courtesy of AMP Energy.
There also are the World RPS Society and the U.K. Rock Paper Scissors Championship.
8. Paint ball
Like the sponsors of other fringe sports, the promoters behind paintball competitions are involved in the sale of gear and rental of playing fields.
The sport involves teams shooting the other teams with paintballs that splatter on contact.
A card game often played in smoke-filled rooms is now a sport broadcast on ESPN. These “athletes” work up a sweat playing high-stakes poker.
The World Series of Poker is the best known poker tournament. It’s been around since 1970. The finals are held annually in Las Vegas.
The sport is predominantly female. Most players in these leagues skate under an alias, also called a derby name. For instance, members of Connecticut’s CT RollerGirls include Eleanor Bruisevelt, Pearl Jammer, Pepper Grind-Her, C. Mya Rage and Rinko Starr.
CT RollerGirls are members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.