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Sun, July 21

Column: Republican tax bill targets national sports scene
'Beyond the Lines'

The long-awaited Republican tax plan unveiled last week contained proposals which would benefit some taxpayers and negatively impact others. The sports world is no exception.

One provision specifically targets professional sports and another is aimed at college sports. A proposal to eliminate tax-exempt financing for sports facilities takes direct aim at the professional ranks. Even if it’s adopted, governmental entities could still pay for new sports facilities but they’re likely to cost more. Cities may be forced to seek alternative sources of revenue or reduce the size of facilities. Major League sports, considering their substantial resources, will be less affected than Minor League sports.

The elimination of this tax break will hardly make a dent in the federal deficit. According to some estimates, tax revenues may only increase by $200 million over the next decade. It’s more likely the proposal is designed to mollify the masses and convince them “the rich” are being affected equally by the new tax bill.

The proposal targeting college sports fans is the elimination of a tax deduction for 80% of donations to college athletic departments for the right to purchase tickets and receive other perks, such as preferred parking, for sporting events. A similar proposal was made during the Obama administration but was never enacted into law.

Not surprisingly, college officials are concerned a change in the tax law would put a damper on alumni giving. Other provisions of the bill have broader aims, but would cover sports as well. One would end the deduction available to companies for a portion of their spending on entertainment, e.g., attending a sporting event. Currently, if such attendance is associated with, or directly preceded or followed by, “a substantial and bona fide” discussion related to the company’s business, a portion of the cost of luxury suites and season tickets is deductible.

Another proposal would impact a variety of tax-exempt non-profit organizations, potentially affecting colleges. So-called “private-activity bonds,” a form of financing that has been used by colleges for construction projects, including athletic facilities, would no longer be tax exempt.

Here’s one proposal that is unlikely to generate sympathy from many Americans: Tax-exempt organizations would be subject to a 20% tax on compensation in excess of $1 million paid to any of their five highest compensated employees. The proposal would apply to dozens of college coaches and athletic directors, including the nation’s highest paid coach, Nick Saban of Alabama, who will earn $11.132 million this year.

The Republican tax proposal is just that: a proposal. Both Houses of Congress must approve the bill before it reaches the President’s desk. Before that happens, there will be hearings and amendments galore. It remains to be seen whether all, or any, of these proposals will be adopted. What we can be sure of is the sports industry, like every other segment of society that believes its ox is being gored, will be lobbying against the provisions adverse to their interests.

Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a Professor in and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Jordan can be reached at


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