Another Way To Keep Score?
In a league as competitive as the NFL, it serves a team well to gain any advantage available. In Major League Baseball, the bigger market teams have a competitive advantage in that they can spend more money to acquire the higher-priced free agent talent to improve their teams. However, in the NFL, there is a salary cap ($120 million for 2011). So where can a team find a competitive advantage? There are numerous ways teams can gain an edge over their rivals; one such opportunity is the tax advantage.
Like most people, NFL players have to pay taxes on their income. A team located where income tax rates are lower theoretically could offer contracts that are lower in nominal dollars but allow the players to receive higher take-home pay (for the purposes of this post, I am not taking into consideration deductions and tax loopholes, nor am I factoring in cost-of-living adjustments). Which team’s players have the lowest income tax burden in the NFL? Well, there a couple of things to consider. First, what is the state and local income tax rate for where the players play their eight home games? Next, what is the state and local income tax rate for each of the team’s divisional foes (the players will travel for a road game against each of their divisional opponents)? The other games on a team’s schedule change from year to year, so the combined burden the players face will change somewhat from year to year.
So, for the 11 games (out of the 16 total) that a NFL team has on its schedule every year, is there a noticeable difference between the income tax burdens that the players on different teams face? From my calculations, there is (basic calculations —I only used the top marginal rate, so these numbers do not take into account the lower rates for the lower brackets and these numbers are slightly higher than they really would be). Take, for example, the Houston Texans. A team member who plays a game in Houston would pay no income taxes at either the state or local level. Therefore, for the eight games played in Houston, a Houston player will pay no income taxes. A Houston player will pay no income taxes for the road games in Jacksonville and Nashville, and $1,973.13 for the one game in Indianapolis. Therefore, the total income tax burden for a Houston Texans player making the median salary for these 11 games is $1,973.13. In contrast, a NFL player making the median salary would face a state and local income tax burden of close to $46,000 if he played for the Oakland Raiders (9.3 percent tax rate for eight games in Oakland and one game in San Diego plus the 4.63 percent and 7 percent rates for the games in Denver and Kansas City, respectively). Multiply that figure by 53 (the total number of players on the active roster) and the burden on a team’s players can increase substantially. If you used the mean salary ($1,900,000) instead of the median salary, the burden also increases.
Would this tax burden make much of a difference? I cannot say definitively (I am not an economist), but if one team had to pay a couple of million dollars, which counts against the cap, to just the income taxes, while another team only paid $100,000 or $200,000, I can tell you which team I would rather own.