Eventually, the NFL-protest debate was going to get to crony capitalism, right? Right. The only question is which tax incentives would come under fire, and which actually matter. Donald Trump decided to take aim at the league’s “massive tax breaks” this morning, and demand a change in law to eliminate them:
“Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!” the commander-in-chief posted on Twitter Tuesday morning, also taking aim at suspended ESPN host Jemele Hill.
“With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have ‘tanked,’ in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!” he said.
The ratings are another interesting topic, but let’s stick with public policy for now. If the massive tax breaks in question are those which the league as its own entity enjoys at the federal level, the question is largely moot. At one time, the NFL organized itself to claim a tax exemption as a non-profit trade association, but as the New York Daily News notes, it surrendered that status in April 2015. (Time magazine reported that the decision was based on public-relations issues, in response to political attacks on the league.) The teams themselves have always been for-profit entities, subject to normal taxation on their income, as are the players and the owners.
The real benefit from tax breaks don’t come at the federal level. It comes at the state and local level. Congress may not be able to touch those, short of a punitive income tax on such tax breaks broadly on all businesses who enjoy them. The likelihood of that becoming part of the GOP’s tax-reform plan approaches zero, especially since they want to reduce tax burdens on business rather than increasing them — although it would go a long ways toward protecting taxpayers from extortion efforts by sports owners for publicly financed stadiums and retail complexes that put money into the pockets of private ownership.
The real action for that kind of effort would have to take place in state legislatures, and at least in Louisiana, the topic has come up in relation to the anthem protests:
Offended by New Orleans Saints players who protested by sitting during the national anthem Sunday (Sept. 24), state House Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, called for Louisiana’s government to pull state funding, tax breaks and other support from the professional football franchise. …
About $165 million of the Saints’ $1.5 billion value can be attributed to public funding, tax breaks and incentives given to Saints owner Tom Benson each year, according to an analysis The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com conducted in 2016. Benson, Louisiana’s richest resident, owes a good portion of his estimated $2.2 billion fortune to his ownership of two professional sports franchises, the Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans, which are both supported with taxpayer money.
“I believe in the right to protest, but not at a taxpayer-subsidized sporting event. Do it on your own time. There are plenty of disabled children, elderly and veterans in this state that would appreciate the money,” Havard said.
For that to be effective, all states would need to adopt such policies to prevent the usual extortion attempts used by businesses to wangle tax breaks in return for relocation. One would normally expect Louisiana’s attempted legislation to result in a franchise move to a friendlier state. Given the low popularity of the NFL at the moment, though, that may not be an option for franchise owners any longer. The ratings for this weekend’s night games hit new lows, and even the new Star Wars trailer didn’t help:
However, even with the much plugged world debut of the new Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer at halftime, for the NFL and ESPN it was not such a great result in what is clearly a season of ratings hurt and protest controversies surrounding the national anthem – even on a night when the latter was not shown on-air by the league.
Snaring a 7.0 in metered market results, last night’s MNF was down double digits from last week’s Kansas Chiefs’ 29-20 victory over the Washington Redskins. Down 17% in the ratings, that’s actually a regular game season low for the ESPN broadcast game and matches the MM result of the second game of the doubleheader MNF opener on September 11.
That comes a day after Sunday Night Football also hit a season low with its ratings down too.
Allahpundit notes that MNF ratings are up overall, but the trend is looking poor. Also, he points out that the two teams involved last night aren’t exactly powerhouses, but Chicago has the #3 TV market in the country, and the Vikings-Bears game is a pretty solid divisional rivalry.
Owners don’t seem to think it’s a fluke. They are looking for the exits on the anthem protests, as the league’s spokesman said today:
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart on politics: “There’s a strong feeling across the league that we ought to get back to football.”
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) October 10, 2017
Can Goodell bring his new rule across the plane into the end zone? He’ll have to do so to catch up with the league’s customers. There’s been a strong feeling among fans to “get back to football” for a year now. They’re a little late picking up on the trend.