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Patrick Hruby

Welfare King

The NFL neither needs nor deserves tax-exempt status


Cancer research. Tsunami relief. Golden retriever puppy rescue. Professional football. One of these things is not like the other. Thanks to a longstanding quirk in the federal tax code, however, the National Football League’s main office enjoys nonprofit status similar to that of the Alzheimer’s Association — even though the former causes dementia, while the latter seeks to cure it.
This is utterly nonsensical. In fact, it’s downright offensive.

The N.F.L., National Hockey League, the Professional Golf Association and other sports leagues considered nonprofit 501(c)6 organizations by the Internal Revenue Service neither need nor deserve taxpayer help. Federal law requires that such groups avoid engaging in “a regular business of a kind ordinarily carried on for profit.” But their purpose is to maximize the profits for their member teams.

The N.F.L. as a whole takes in over $9 billion in annual revenue, more than the reported 2013 GDP of 49 countries, hawking everything from personal seat licenses to replica jerseys to the “Madden NFL” video game.

The Professional Golf Association Tour, which earns nearly $1 billion a year, makes a point of calling their commitment to charity "unprecedented in professional sports." However, ESPN found that the P.G.A. tournaments spend about 16 percent of their revenues on charity - far below the 65 percent threshold that charity watchdog groups say characterize the most reputable organizations - and that holding a P.G.A. event actually caused one charity to lose more than $4.5 million over a two-year span. And while the N.F.L. listed $2.3 million in charitable giving two years ago, $2.1 million of that went to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Every dollar that sports organizations don’t contribute to the federal treasury is one less dollar for schools and roads — or one more dollar tacked on to our ballooning national debt. Last year, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma introduced legislation that would revoke the tax-exempt status of sports leagues with annual revenue of more than $10 million. His bill has gone nowhere, in part because the P.G.A. and N.F.L. reportedly spent more than $500,000 in 2012 lobbying Capitol Hill about their tax exemptions. That’s hardly surprising, given that pro sports leagues already exist as corporate welfare queens nonpareil, gobbling up undeserved public giveaways and sweetheart stadium financing deals while getting to double-deduct player salary costs as both regular expenses and depreciable assets — essentially treating athletes as aging livestock in the eyes of the IRS.

The man who created and successfully lobbied for the double-dip? Former baseball owner Bill Veeck, who in his appropriately-titled memoir “The Hustler’s Handbook” wrote, “Look, we play the Star-Spangled Banner before every game — you want us to pay income taxes, too?" Actually, yes.

Read the original article at The New York Times