The Real NFL Scandal

Seattle’s decision to throw the ball at the goal line with 20 seconds to go in last night’s Super Bowl was a costly one. But in the long run, it won’t be nearly as costly to the rest of America as the National Football League itself.

Every year, the NFL rakes in around $9.5 billion in revenue. Its commissioner, Roger Goodell, meanwhile, has an annual salary of $44 million. And while those numbers might make sense for any big business, the NFL isn’t a business - not technically, at least.

According to the Public Law 89-800, it’s a 501(c)6 tax-exempt non-profit. That’s right, a non-profit. In other words, the NFL, one of the most lucrative organizations in all of sports, is subsidized by you and me the taxpayers. If that sounds ridiculous and absurd, that’s because it is ridiculous and absurd.

There’s absolutely no reason why the NFL needs taxpayer subsidies to stay in business. Other sports leagues, like Major League Baseball, stopped taking handouts from the government years ago, and are doing just fine as far as making money is concerned. But juicing the public is what the NFL is all about. And even though individual franchises are taxable for-profit businesses, they all find ways to bleed taxpayers dry.

The most obvious way they do this is by getting the public to foot the bill for their stadiums. According to some studies, taxpayers have actually put forward 70 percent of the cost of NFL stadiums nationwide.

The idea, of course, is that public money is an investment that will pay dividends in the form of booming business activity in the area surrounding the stadium. But there’s no evidence that this is actually the case, and Bloomberg estimates that over the next few decades, taxpayers will lose almost $4 billion on stadium deals. And to make matters worse, money that’s spent on NFL stadium deal is money that then can’t be spent on more important things, like healthcare.

As Gregg Easterbrook pointed out in an article for The Atlantic, the $26 billion in subsidies that taxpayers in the Cincinnati area forked over to help pay for two local stadiums “exceeded the $23.6 million that the county cut from health-and-human-services spending in the current two-year budget.”

Oh, and all this comes at the same time as the public has to deal with the increasing human costs of what it means to play in the NFL.

The evidence is overwhelming that playing football leads to permanent brain damage, but since the league’s healthcare coverage only last 5 years after a player retires, you and me - the premium payers and taxpayers - end up having to pay for the damage caused by a grueling NFL career.

You really couldn’t ask for a better symbol of everything that’s wrong with American predatory capitalism. Like the fossil fuel industry that pumps toxic greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere while taking in millions of subsidies or the fast food industry that depends on taxpayers to cover with welfare programs what it’s skimpy wages will not, the NFL is based on one simple formula: privatize the gains and socialize the losses.

Sure, building a stadium on the public dime isn’t as terrible for the world as pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but it still shows just how tilted the scales are in favor of the rich and powerful, and how easy it is for giant corporations to turn the government into their personal welfare program. For example, Koch brothers darling Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, has proposed spending $500 million - about half of it government money - on a new stadium for a basketball team, while cutting $300 million from Wisconsin's schools. This is how George W. Bush made his first millions, with the Texas Rangers, and an example of crony capitalism of the worst kind.

Lawmakers from both political parties have proposed revoking the NFL’s tax exempt status, and that’s a great idea. But this isn’t really about the NFL or football, for that matter. It’s about what kind of economic system we want to live in.

Do we want an economy that subsidizes billionaires and private corporations at the expense of the public or do we want an economy that works for all? That’s the question we should all ask ourselves, football fans or not.


DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 9 years 20 weeks ago

I couldn't agree more, Thom. Good luck getting that little fact through to any fans though. I took advantage as much as I could with everyone I know to point that out yesterday. Didn't get one reply yet. Nobody cares. Everyone I spoke with is more than happy to bend over as far as possible for the NFL. Oh, well! At least it was a really good game. I feel I got a sliver of my return on investment back. Wish I could have got a return on my effort at complaining about the non-taxable status too. Maybe you'll have better luck.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 9 years 20 weeks ago

While I wrote my little editorial last night I couldn't help notice all the jingoistic fanfare during the pregame show. The height of the show was the Blue Angels screeching across the sky. One has to wonder if the NFL would waste so much time and energy with patriotic excessism and pageantry if it had to pay for all those excesses out of its own pocket--as well as its fair share of taxes every year. Maybe then they would just sing a simple pre recorded anthem and skip the Blue Angels, fireworks, celebrities and parade. Who knows? How much could it possibly cost to pay the Blue Angels to buzz your little public spectacle? Maybe I can contract them for my next Birthday party?

SHFabian's picture
SHFabian 9 years 20 weeks ago

Think of the NFL, etc., in terms of trickle down economics. This generation strongly believes in the trickle-down theory. This is how we address our poverty crisis: Increase the wealth of the middle class, and something will trickle down to the very poor. Problem solved. The extraordinary investment we make in Big Sports would be downright foolish if it didn't benefit the entire nation, serving as massive economic stimulus. After all, we're not fools, right?

Steven.PBarrett 9 years 20 weeks ago

Big League Sports, Inc., especially the NFL provides living proof there's a massive amount of wealth redistribution going on. Only this time the beneficiaries are, as expected, doing whatever they can to paper over, gloss over and whatever else over the simple fact that the wealth that's being redistributed is going upwards and directly towards the sky boxes to subsidize the palatial viewing quarters the wealthy use for further deal-makin' n' brokerin'. Which of course, will no doubt lead to more of the same. During the glory days of the Roman Empire, both Rome's and Constantinople's major chariot arenas featured a "super box" off its day that was directly linked to Caesar's palace. At least the Latins and Byzantines were more upfront a b out it all.

Kend's picture
Kend 9 years 20 weeks ago

I don't mind building new stadiums if it brings a sports team your city. But I hate when they tear down a perfectly good one to build a new one. That's when it benifits the owner not the city.

I think Thom sure be clear about the NFL being non profit. The NFL is but the teams pay billions in taxes.

Willie W's picture
Willie W 9 years 20 weeks ago

8,000 dollars for a ticket? 4+million for a 30 second commercial. A brawl amongst the players near the end of the game. The whole event was insane. Good entertainment though. There's an old saying that sports doesn't build character. It reveals it. Lots of fun to watch. But, if the game never happened, I wouldn't miss it either. Stadium was full. Not my cup of tea. At that price, TV's good enough.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 9 years 20 weeks ago

The billionaires complain about their taxes being an unfair redistribution of wealth. To be accurate they only complain when tax money is redistributed to programs for citizens who are poor and in need . When the welfare recipients happen to be wealthy such as NFL owners and military industrial corporations the redistribution is viewed as an intelligent business choice. The Teapublican Party wants the unemployed parent who is at their wits' end because they lost their job do to free trade agreements to feel shame and embarrassment at having collected social safety net income. At the same time George W. Bush can arrogantly be the recipient of welfare in the millions with one shady deal and it's written off as a business investment return...LMAO!


Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 20 weeks ago

Sports are emphasized too much in our society, on purpose, I think. It creates a competitive ethos where the winners are lionized and the losers are sneered at. Power and predation are respected and virtues like honesty and loyalty are not and it doesn't allow for compassion for the less fortunate.

Since the '80s it progressed in tandem with the "greed is good" business and mainstream popular culture. "How you play the game" ceased to matter, only "whether you win or lose" did anymore.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 9 years 20 weeks ago

I couldn't care less about he game of football, but football politics interests me. It amazes me how these guys get paid six figures or more a year, while the NFL can't even pay their cheerleaders more than minimum wage. And those concussions will have retired fooball players too messed-up to enjoy their mcmansions or their money. It'll all get sucked into healthcare and overpriced drugs. - AIW

Legend 9 years 20 weeks ago

The area around the stadium in Denver certainly does not show any great growth or wealth. Football is only 8 home games and 2 pre-season games per year. The stadium gets very little other use. I do not attend professional sporting events. It is not just the high price for tickets, it is $10 for a hot dog and $10 for a beer. Most of the vendors are homeless that are hired just for the game. I prefer to play golf and get some exercise. Baseball, Hockey and Basketball all are expensive, more than a round of golf at a good course.

RLTOWNSLEY's picture
RLTOWNSLEY 9 years 20 weeks ago

You would have stood a better chance convincing the impoverished citizens of early Rome who flocked to the coliseum to view the mayhem that was the one bright spot in their otherwise miserable existence ! Not so much different today !

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 9 years 20 weeks ago

Legend ~ I think you really hit the ball out of the park concerning stadiums. (Pardon the pun.) 10 home games is about all the local economy stimulus does. If you happen to own a parking lot, restaurant, or hot dog stand near the stadium you might look forward to 10 days a year of high income. If not, all you have to look forward to is a huge traffic jam on your way to or from work. Here in Oakland we have two ungrateful professional teams that want the city to build them their own stadium. Apparently the Coliseum isn't big enough for the both of them. They both make me sick. The Coliseum is a huge, modern venue right next to a major freeway with it's own BART train station. It has it's own huge, two-stadium parking lots, plus added parking from BART and adjacent business. Yet all that isn't good enough. The Raiders and the A's can't seem to get along. The Raiders are a particular pain in the butt. Although they suckered the city into building the huge, Davis extension in the middle of the present park, they refuse to allow the A's fans to use it for home games. Thus, they screw not only the A's franchise; but, also the A's fans who would like a chance to use those seats. If that isn't enough, the Raiders have a policy whereas if they don't sell out every seat, they black out the local telecast of their game so that no one here in the Bay Area without tickets can watch it. Lately, they've been whining and threatening the City that if the City doesn't buy them their OWN stadium--at the expense of the citizens they've already been shitting on--that they will move their team to another city. Don't get me wrong, I'm a HUGE Raider's fan. However, I'll be DOUBLE DAMNED if I let them get away with this little extortion/blackmail of my city. I say, sit down, shut up, play some great football where WE tell you to so we can ALL watch; or, just get the hell out of town; and, don't EVER, EVER even think about coming back like you did before. Good riddance!!! (At least if they really do move out of Dodge, I'll be able to watch all their home games again for free. Yipee!!)

ChicagoMatt 9 years 19 weeks ago

Not to get nit-picky, but it was the Air Force Tunderbirds (F-16s), not the Navy Blue Angels (F-18s) that did the pregame flyover. At least the one I saw, right after the national anthem. Maybe there was another one before that I didn't see.

Anyway, I'm wondering if anyone knows who gets the revenue when the stadiums are rented out to things like concerts? Soldier Field here in Chicago has concerts every summer. I wonder if the Bears get that money, or the city of Chicago.

Also, do athletes pay income taxes on where their hometeam is, where each game is, or where their home address is? Did Arizona get any income tax from the players and coaches in the Super Bowl, since they made that money in Arizona? If that's how it works, it must be a red-tape nightmare, determining exactly how much money you made in each state, and making sure you pay income taxes in each state. But I'm sure they have people for that.

mathboy's picture
mathboy 9 years 19 weeks ago

DAnneMarc, I think it's NFL policy to blackout the non-sellout games. I'm not into football, but my brother is, and he said the Broncos got on TV a lot because the games were so consistently sold out. I guess there's a drawback to getting a bigger stadium.

ChicagoMatt, I wonder if the Air Force planes came from here (Denver). There should be an Air Force base closer to Phoenix than that, but my complex got a loud flyby that weekend.

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