Taxes and Sports: The Earnings Tax (Part One in a Series)
This is the first in what will be a series of posts on taxation and professional sports in Missouri written by Audrey Spalding and myself. By “professional sports,” we mean the four main leagues — one of which is no longer represented by a Missouri team. (Where have you gone, Tiny Archibald?) This Show-Me Daily series aims to examine taxation levels for the Rams, the Chiefs, the Cardinals, the Royals, and the Blues in regard to income and earnings taxes, land and property taxes, tax subsidies of various types, sales taxes, and more. You can probably tell from this list that some examples will show that the teams and athletes benefit greatly from subsidies and taxpayer support, and other examples will show where they pay a hefty tax tab. Let’s start with one of the latter.
It is not exactly groundbreaking research for me to state that teams and players pay substantial income taxes in various forms. Here are the most recent payrolls and league ranking for the five Missouri teams:
- Rams, $62,384,821 (32)
- Chiefs, $83,187,156 (31)
- Cardinals, $93,540,751 (12)
- Royals, $71,405,210 (21)
- Blues, $46,485,000 (22)
As far as I know, the location in which a team plays its regular season home games is the primary determinate for which taxes must be paid. So, the city of St. Louis, which hosts the home games of all three St. Louis teams, gets $1,518,079 per year in earnings and payroll taxes just from the Cardinals, Rams, and Blues players. Kansas City gets $772,962 from Chiefs and Royals players. (This post originally mistakenly said that the KC stadiums were outside of Kansas City proper. Thanks to David Nicklaus of the Post-Dispatch for sending me a correction, and for reading our blog!) Of course, when you account for team employees and the profit tax levied on each organization, the earnings tax receipts grow even larger.
Missouri receives an estimated $10,710,088 each year from applying the 6-percent income tax rate to athletes from each of its five sports teams. (With deductions, etc., this figure would be a little lower.) Missouri, like many other states, enforces its income taxes on visiting athletes, too. However, just as players from visiting teams must pay the income and earnings taxes, all the players get credit for taxes paid to other cities and states. The result is that the total taxes paid are just moved around between jurisdictions, as our former editor Tim Lee first pointed out when writing about the “jock tax” in 2005:
But Missouri athletes who pay other states’ jock taxes are able to subtract those tax payments from their Missouri tax bills. When you subtract the revenue lost from other states’ jock taxes, the result is practically a wash. If all 20 states repealed their jock taxes simultaneously, states would get virtually the same revenue with a lot less administrative overhead.
Two lists help us determine whether players pay more or less taxes: states without an income tax, and cities with an earnings tax. The Cardinals players don’t appear to do so well here. They pay both a state income tax and city earnings tax at home, and regularly travel to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, New York, and Philadelphia. Only when they travel to play the Astros — and, less frequently, the Marlins — do they really get a pay raise. The Royals also pay the local earnings tax when they travel to Detroit, Cleveland, or New York. Both the Cardinals and Royals pay the other city’s e-tax each year when they travel across I-70 for the annual “rivalry” series.
The Blues pay a local tax on their frequent visits to Detroit or Columbus, but get a nice tax vacation when they head to Nashville. Of course, Canadian taxation becomes a issue for any hockey player, and for the Royals to a lesser extent.
The NFL schedule rotates from year to year more than other leagues, but the Rams players have to like getting to play one guaranteed road game in Seattle each year, because Washington has no state income tax and Seattle has no earnings tax. The Chiefs and Rams play this year in the regular season, so both teams will be paying the host city’s e-tax then, as well. (The two football teams usually play in the pre-season for the much-coveted “Governor’s Cup” but I don’t think athlete’s salaries are based on pre-season games so no earnings tax would be collected in that case.) If you are looking to avoid taxes, the AFC south is where you want to play — aside from the smallish earnings tax in Indianapolis, of course. The Chiefs have to pay high California state taxes for at least two games per year. (Disclaimer: All team opponent and schedule info listed here has been pulled from my own memory, with a little help from ESPN.com.) Of course, other factors such as where an athlete keeps his primary residence, the agressiveness of his accountant, etc., will all play a factor here. A player who lives full time in Missouri is going to pay Missouri income tax on salary earned, but not taxed, playing in Texas, while someone who lives in another state might not. I am a policy analyst, not a CPA.
What does all of this prove? Nothing really, yet. This post is less debatable than future posts in the series might be, because in these cases the teams and players are treated just like other businesses, and the taxes paid are substantial. That does not mean I think they should be substantial, just pointing out that the applicable tax policies show no favoritism. Also, it is simultaneously difficult to say that the athletes and teams are not paying enough in taxes when around 100 individual players generate more than $1.5 million per year to the city of St. Louis alone, and it is almost as hard to seriously complain about the taxes paid by modern professional athletes, who earn enormous salaries to play a game for a living. (Am I jealous? Absolutely!)
Future posts in this series will deal with areas in which teams are not treated like other businesses, for better or worse.