Coburn Targets Pro Sports Leagues’ Tax Exemptions

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted September 18, 2013 at 4:03pm

Sen. Tom Coburn on Tuesday introduced a bill to bar professional sports leagues with annual revenues exceeding $10 million from qualifying for tax-exempt status.

The Oklahoma Republican’s legislation, if enacted, likely would affect the National Football League, National Hockey League, Professional Golfers Association, Association of Tennis Professionals Tour, Women’s Tennis Association Tour, U.S. Tennis Association, National Hot Rod Association and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. In 2008, Major League Baseball switched its tax designation away from the tax-exempt 501(c)(6) status that also applies to trade organizations and public interest groups.

According to a document released by Coburn’s office, the Joint Committee on Taxation currently is working on a cost estimate for the PRO Sports Act, but requiring the PGA Tour to pay the 35 percent corporate tax rate on its $1.4 billion in revenue, for example, would yield the government an estimated $300 million.

According to a definition from the IRS, “501(c)(6) provides for exemption of business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade, and professional football leagues (whether or not administering a pension fund for football players), 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.” Sports leagues attain this status by saying that their purpose is to promote their sports and membership as opposed to the league brands themselves.

WGDB submits to you this Deadspin post from 2011 that published leaked documents revealing astronomic growth in the NFL’s billion-dollar revenue.

“Tax earmarks are essentially tax increases for everyone who doesn’t receive the benefit. In this case, working Americans are paying artificially high rates in order to subsidize special breaks for sports leagues. This is hardly fair,” Coburn said in a statement. “This bill would require major professional sports leagues to be prohibited from qualifying as non-profit organizations under the tax code. This would help give all Americans, not just athletes and owners, a break and pave the way for the kind of tax reform and job creation our economy desperately needs.”

Of course, Coburn’s office also concedes that it’s impossible to estimate how much revenue the government could bring in by revoking sports leagues’ 501(c)(6) status because “it is uncertain exactly how the leagues would change their structures were their exemption revoked.”

Read the full Coburn report here.