Once in a while, I run across something that I did not know and it leaves me flabbergasted.
For example, I did not know that the National Football League, the colossus of professional sports, is classified as a non-profit — a tax-free non-profit, to be more specific. That’s right: The NFL has its own exemption, written into federal law, that makes it exempt from federal corporate taxes.
The Professional Golf Association and the National Hockey League, among others, enjoy a similar exemption although in their cases, it is not an exemption specifically written into the law.
As described in Waste Book 2012 — compiled by the staff of U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma:
In 2010, the registered NFL nonprofit alone received $184 million from its 32 member teams. It holds over $1 billion in assets. Together with its subsidiaries and teams – many of which are for-profit, taxed entities – the NFL generates an estimated $9 billion annually. Each of its teams are among the top 50 most expensive sports teams in the world, ranking alongside the world’s famous soccer teams. Almost half of professional football teams are valued at over $1 billion….
League commissioners and officials benefit from the nonprofit status of their organizations. Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, reported $11.6 million in salary and perks in 2010 alone. Goodell’s salary will reportedly reach $20 million in 2019. Steve Bornstein, the executive vice president of media, made $12.2 million in 2010. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue earned $8.5 million from the league in 2010. The league paid five other officials a total of $19.2 million in just one year. In comparison, the next highest salary of a traditional nonprofit CEO is $3.4 million.
The NFL’s exemption stems from a 1966 law, passed at the time of the merger with the old American Football League, specifically allowing “professional football leagues” to enjoy 501(c)(6) status as tax-exempt trade organizations. Other leagues have piggy-backed on that legislation to claim that status themselves.
Major League Baseball also used to enjoy the same tax-exempt protection, but in 2007 it chose to surrender that status in part because as the salary information above illustrates, tax-exempt, non-profit status requires you to report the salaries of your top executives. MLB decided that protecting that information from the public was more important than escaping taxes.