The NFL earns around $10 billion a year—the actual numbers are not disclosed—from tv deals, tickets, beers and brats, making it the top earning pro sports league in the US. Most of the revenue for the league’s 32 teams is subject to tax, but the money kept by the league office itself is tax free, because this hugely profitable enterprise is technically a nonprofit.
Two Republican members of Congress say this is a joke, and one introduced a bill days ahead of the Super Bowl, the biggest game of the year, to revoke the NFL’s nonprofit status.
The league doesn’t have to pay taxes because of a back-room deal in 1966 that saw two powerful Louisiana Senators lure a franchise—the Saints—to New Orleans in return for the favorable tax treatment. Among its tax-free expenses are the $44 million paid to commissioner Roger Goodell, whose tenure has brought the league’s owners equal parts riches and embarrassment, and real estate investments. If its non-profit status was revoked, together with that of the National Hockey League, which operates under a similar structure, it would bring in some $10 million dollars of revenue a year.
That’s not a lot in the grand scheme of the federal budget’s $483 billion deficit in 2014. But the massively successful NFL “nonprofit” is obviously a useful symbol of the wasteful loopholes many corporations use to avoid paying taxes. That’s why Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, introduced a bill in the House today to strip that status, similar to legislation promoted in the senate by Republican Senator Tom Coburn. Both men see themselves as populist conservative reformers, and their legislation has not attracted significant support from other members of Congress—perhaps not surprising in a world where NFL owners remain wealthy and influential.
But as long as corporate tax loopholes are on the table, we’d suggest aiming a little bit higher.