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Does The National Football League Deserve Tax-Exempt Status?

Now here is a fact that is not so widely known – the National Football Association which you figure makes a ton of money is recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt entity. 

Besides the match-up of the Seahawks and the Patriots in Super Bowl 49, people are excited over the entertainment and half-time show, what celebrities will be attending the game and of course – the commercials.

Sponsors present their best commercials during the Super Bowl, and the big game wouldn’t be the same without them. For the advertising community, the Super Bowl is their Super Bowl, and often creates commercials specifically for the enormous viewership that the game provides. For many, watching the commercials is the most entertaining part of the Super Bowl. Advertisers try to get their money’s worth by unveiling their most creative and innovative spots. The cost to air a 30-second commercial during the 2015 Super Bowl is $4.5M.

How about the cost of a ticket to attend the Super Bowl? Well the cheapest seat – and this is face value – is $800.00. The more expensive seats (and I am not even talking about suites) go up to $1,900.00.

The NFL is a non-profit entity.

The National Football Association which you figure makes a ton of money is recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt entity and does not pay income taxes as any for-profit-company would.

Section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code provides for the exemption from  tax entities which are not organized for profit and no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.

Those entities are specifically:

  1. business leagues,
  2. chambers of commerce,
  3. real estate boards,
  4. boards of trade and
  5. professional football leagues.

It’s obviously notable that only professional football leagues are included here, as opposed to all sporting leagues.

It seems inconceivable that the NFL is not “engaging in a regular business of a kind ordinarily carried on for profit”.  How are their efforts to maximize profits any different than those of Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association or the National Hockey League?

Well professional football leagues were not always included in this list.  This change dates back to 1966, when the tax code was amended to give a professional football league tax-exempt status in order to facilitate the merger of the NFL and the old American Football League.

Let’s Look At The Stats!

In order to have a tax-exempt status, the NFL must be run as a charitable foundation. In 2012, they gave away a meager $2.3 million. Almost all of it–$2.1 million– went to the NFL Hall of Fame. Oh by the way, last time I checked the price of Adult admission to the Hall of Fame was $24.00 ($17.00 for a child). The average admission price (including free admission museums) for all museums in the United States is $8.00.

In 2012, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was paid $29.5 million to run the organization. More crazy: Goodell’s salary is 1/10th of what the NFL claimed in total assets for 2012– $255 million. Even crazier: Goodell made 15 times what the NFL donated to other charities. Extremely crazier: the NFL only made charitable donations equaling one-one hundredth of their annual income.

The NFL’s most recent Form 990 filed with the IRS ended on March 31, 2012. They claimed revenue of $255 million, up from $240 million in 2011. So, if you were concerned, things are good. The NFL has assets of over $822 million.

Under “grants”– meaning donations to other non profit organizations, the NFL did increase the number from just over $900,000 to $2.3 million. Generous right? However: their total salaries increased by $27 million to a total of over $107 million.

Here’s the best part: after all that, thanks to creative thinking, the NFL claims it finished the year in the red with negative $316 million.

What else did they spend money on? Well, for one thing, new office construction cost $36 million.

Just to put all this in perspective: going by numbers in Forbes, Goodell would come in at around number 28 of the highest paid CEOs in 2012. He made more than the heads of FedEx, AT&T, Heinz, Ford Motors, Goldman Sachs, as well as Rupert Murdoch.

Charitable Deduction Rule

So one may ask – if I go on and order super bowl tickets, can I claim a charitable deduction? Well the tax law states that when you make a donation to a charity and receive a benefit back, the amount deductible is only the excess of your contribution over the benefit you receive. Also, your charitable deduction cannot include the value of any benefits you received from the charity.  An example would be where you paid $200 to attend a charitable ball for which the charity states that the value of the ticket is $75.  In such an instance your charitable deduction would be $125.

What Do you Think?

Going back to whether the NFL should get to keep its tax-exempt status, the important thing here is that WE THE PEOPLE through our politicians in Washington D.C. granted the NFL this tax exemption, even if it was decades ago. This is no different that us granting the NFL’s anti-trust exemption for negotiating television broadcast contracts. As a result, should that exemption be revoked if the NFL blacks out its fans, forces fans to pay for personal seat licenses, extorts public money from municipalities by threatening to move teams, etc.? The NFL may technically be a “nonprofit,” but is it really acting in the public interest?

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