Having been a member of an American Poolplayers Association (APA) League for a decade or so, I always thought it'd be fun to apply that organization's league principles to a board game league. Utilize the same basic structure to provide board game hobbyists with the same opportunities to improve, and compete, ultimately, for cash prizes on a national level.
There'd have to be some tweaking to accommodate a competitive activity that involved the participation of four players, exactly. While there are certainly many games that can be played with more and/or less than four players, you'd probably want to set the league competition at the four-player level, just to standardize a format. The league itself would need to be organized on an individual, as opposed to a team, basis. You could set up a team format for the league, but it would increase the complexity of it, exponentially.
There is also a rationale for choosing a particular game that would be played in a defined season. It wouldn't be equitable in a scheduled weekly game competition if one or more of the competitors were to be playing a game for the first time. So for a defined number of weeks, as an example, the league might opt to play Puerto Rico. League members would meet at a pre-determined location and set up as many four-player games of Puerto Rico as necessary.
The games would play out with a pre-set number of points going to the players who finished first, second, third, or fourth; say 4 points for first, 3 for second, 2 for third, and a single point for fourth place. Ties broken by standard game rules. At the end of the night, assuming the play of two games, each participating player will have amassed a set of points, anywhere (in the example) from eight to two. These points would add up over the course of say, a 16-week season, with the players who had amassed the highest point totals advancing to some form of regional competition, against players who'd gone through a similar process elsewhere.
You'd set the 16-week schedule, and over the course of that time, you'd arrange (set the schedule) for different players (different groups of four) to play against each other, so that at the end of this defined season of play, there'd be a highest scoring player, a second-highest, etc. You'd then (again, like the APA) arrange a series of playoff matches, played by a defined number of 'qualifying' players (top point scorers). The winners in the playoffs would advance to regional competition, and eventually, to national competition. If organized along the APA lines, both regional and national competitions would offer prize money (substantial, once the number of participants began to grow). In the APA, players who advance to the national level are offered an expenses-paid trip to the competition location, which, for the APA, is Las Vegas.
The money to fund the trips and prizes would accrue from league membership fees, and weekly 'league match' fees. There could be additional money provided by corporate sponsors. There are some obvious obstacles to this scenario, the most important of which is determining whether, as a board game hobbyist, you would enjoy this hyper-organized, and with prize money involved, highly competitive form of play. Many would not. There are, for example, hundreds of people who attend the World Boardgaming Championships every year, who do not sign on to the 100+ organized tournaments, for precisely that reason.
"People are too serious," you'll hear them say of the tournaments, or they're "too strict about rules" or that tournament play "just takes the fun out of it."
By the same token, the hundreds and hundreds who do sign on to compete in the organized tournaments (myself among them) use much the same language to detail the benefits - "People are serious about the competition," "there are strict rules governing play, so there are no arguments," and "tournament play is a lot of fun."
There is also the money issue. Why, the argument goes, would one choose to pay money for something that can be done for free? The answer to that question can be found in another question. Would you be willing to pay $128 (over the course of a year) for the chance to win an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas, and the opportunity to compete in a game you love for an ultimate cash prize of $5,000? Maybe $10,000? Members of the APA league do this all the time. They sign on locally, at their favorite pool hall, and every time they step to the table, having paid their league dues and a weekly fee, they are aware that they're competing toward a goal of advancement to Las Vegas and a sizeable pay day, if (big 'if,' of course), they can excel.
These first two issues are idealistic, dependent on how competitive players want to be, and whether or not they'd be willing to put their money where their mouth is. A third issue is more practical, and questions the sheer numbers of people who actively participate, regularly, in competitive board game play. It is a decidedly niche hobby, one which, though growing in popularity, is a long way from boasting the numbers that are drawn to participate in pool leagues. Furthermore, board game hobbyists tend to be widely scattered. It wouldn't be like the APA, where generally, you can compete within a 20-minute to half hour distance from your home. It'd be tough if you lived in Chicago and the nearest place you could compete in this sort of league were in St. Louis.
But here's the beauty part. These league competitions could be arranged for on-line play. Not exclusively, of course. You'd want, as much as possible, to encourage face-to-face play among competitors, but in cases where physical presence would be impractical, on-line could step up and fill in. It would, of course, require a game that was available for on-line play and a lot of care and oversight would have to be applied to avoid the potential of people manipulating the system. With money involved, there would be people who would inevitably try to cheat in one way or another (something more difficult to do with face-to-face play). The logistics of this particular aspect of it would require a veritable mountain of rules to regulate effectively, but it could be done.
Let's set this up, hypothetically. First, define eight regions throughout the country - Northwest, Southwest, North Central, Central, South Central, Northeast, MidAtlantic, and Southeast. You promote the idea in each of the regions and see if you can get 25 people per region to sign on for that randomly-chosen $128 mentioned before (it'd be great if all 25 in a region were within driving distance of each other; even better if they routinely gathered in an area game store, but again, on-line play could fill in a few gaps). With 200 people, the league would generate $25,600 in revenue. If you had a prize fund total of $10,000 to be broken up between the top eight competitors (drawn from the 200, and assuming each of the eight would get something), you'd have $15,000 to spend getting your top eight to a city and lodging of your choice for the national competition; $1,875 per competitor. You'd want to give the $600 left over to whoever it was that had put this whole thing together.
This is, of course, far from a snap-your-fingers and it's up and running kind of thing. The league manual alone would have to be staggering in its details. I know, because I wrote (most of) one. To work, though, it would almost have to be approached on a national basis, just to amass the numbers of participants and revenue that would it make worth doing, and personally, I lacked the communicative and organizational 'reach' to do it on my own.
But what, I ask, do you think?