Senate Tax Plan Includes Serious Consequences For the NFL

Professional sports leagues like the National Football League will not have tax-exempt status if the current version of the Senate tax bill goes through.

Professional football leagues have been exempt from tax since 1966 under section 501(c)(6) of the tax code. The Internal Revenue Service has applied the exemption to all professional sports leagues.

A proposal in the Senate bill would eliminate the tax-exempt status for professional sports leagues.

That change comes amid strong criticism of the NFL and its tax status by President Donald Trump last month.

Trump called for an end to "massive tax breaks" that the NFL received.

While the president called out the NFL as a tax-exempt non-profit, the league actually gave up that position in 2015.

At the time, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the decision was made after the organization had been "mischaracterized repeatedly" and the move would "eliminate this distraction."

The ability of professional sports leagues to hold non-profit status did not necessarily cost the government big tax revenues. The tax benefits were in the millions of dollars compared to the billions in revenue generated by the teams, according to Victor Matheson, professor of economics at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

"No sports economists are up in arms about this tax exemption that allows the NFL to form a non-profit," Matheson said.

A bigger issue for the sports industry could be a proposal in the just-passed House version of the tax bill that would eliminate the use of tax-exempt municipal bonds to fund building or renovating sports stadiums.