By Ken Reed
Pro sports franchise owners and big-time college sports administrators have long been masters at getting taxpayers to pay for a big chunk of their expenses. The most obvious example is publicly-funded stadiums and arenas for wealthy NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL franchise owners. These owners have regularly teamed with local politicians to create schemes in which local taxpayers end up paying for sports palaces so rich owners can get richer. These sports barons enjoy many other financial benefits because of favorable tax treatment and the fact that our major pro sports leagues are in effect allowed to operate as unchecked monopolies.
In a new column on salon.com, columnist David Sirota uses the term Sports Tax as a catch-all label for key levies the “little guy” is being forced to pay. Sirota identifies four aspects of the Sports Tax.
The first one is direct handouts. Sirota cites a Bloomberg Businessweek report that reveals “taxpayers have committed $18.6 billion since 1992 to subsidies for the NFL’s 32 teams, counting the expense of building stadiums, forgone real estate taxes, land and infrastructure improvements, and interest costs on public bonds.” Add in NBA, MLB and NHL handouts and that figure soars even higher.
“The second Sports Tax comes in the form of a rigged tax code, which effectively compels honest taxpayers to bankroll professional teams,” writes Sirota. He cites research that taxpayers subsidize at least $91 million worth of tax loopholes for pro sports leagues.
The third Sports Tax involves our cable and satellite TV bills. Sirota refers to a Los Angeles Times story that says up to half of cable bill payments are for the sports services incorporated into most basic cable packages. Ratepayers aren’t allowed to opt out. As such, non-sports fans are forced to subsidize the sports fans who watch cable TV sports.
The fourth piece of this Sports Tax involves big-time college sports. We end up paying more taxes for higher education and higher tuition bills to help fund the athletic departments at major universities. These athletic departments have the advantage of operating under the non-profit umbrella of their universities. Yet, due to the incredible arms race we’re experiencing in college sports — e.g., football coaches are now making upwards of $5 million a year, and plush athletic dorms and workout facilities are popping up across our college campuses — 93% of athletic departments are losing money today. All of us, in one way or the other, are making up the difference.
As Sirota concludes, even most sports fans can agree that the Sports Tax has gotten out of hand, especially in this era of reduced household incomes, and declining budgets for things like schools, police and fire protection.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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