They are America's ungrateful guests. For a week, the NFL folks bring their fancy celebrity friends and Prada-wearing corporate pals to visit yuze guys in Jersey, and then they turn up their noses at your back hair when you give them a burly mob-style hug. What do your guests have da nerve to do? They talk about how much greener the grass is at your neighbor's hotsy-totsy place in Manhattan. "[Look] at the TV commercials, look at all the banners up in New York City," said East Rutherford (N.J.) Mayor James Cassella. "There's nothing that even hints we have [the Super Bowl] here in New Jersey." Who knew?
They are America's unruly guests. In the days before the big game, the NFL's entourage lets loose on Manhattan, engaging in debauchery that would make Caligula or Bieber blush. For $30,000, guests can land a cabana at the "Leather and Laces" bash in Times Square where A-list stars and the finest Victoria's Secret has to offer will be on display in attire that belies the frigid temps outside. But if lacy bras are too tame, and guests just want to skip to the good stuff, there is the athlete's choice for NYC strip clubs: Vivid Cabaret, where workers have just installed the Earth's longest strip pole in time for the festivities. It's 25 feet -- or three-stripper capacity.
They are America's miserly guests. For all the taxpayers put up with as hosts of the Super Bowl -- from closed lanes in Jersey to extra surveillance cameras in Manhattan -- they get fleeced. The $600 million that supposedly pours into the local coffers is fairy dust whipped up by the great and powerful NFL, according to professors such as Robert Baade, who study these things in Super Bowl impact surveys. "Move that decimal point one place to the left," he told the Washington Post.
But surely there is tax revenue from the NFL -- a bounty from five-star hotels, Jersey diners, and fuel at the turnpike's Vince Lombardi rest area -- that flows like Drano across Governor Chris Christie's clogged bridge. Not really. The NFL's office has been considered a 501(c)(6) tax-exempt trade organization since 1966, back when it needed a little government boost to push the pendulum of the league until it became today's $10 billion wrecking ball. What this means: The NFL's "Occupy Broadway" movement this week doesn't fill potholes on either side of the river.
While teams and players do pay Uncle Sam, taxpayers subsidize the NFL's super-sized league office, which, according to its 2011 990s (the most recent available), reported gross receipts of over $255 million. That's almost as big of a bottom line as another titan of trade in America, the National Association of Realtors ($236 million in gross receipts in 2011). So let's compare the NFL vs. NAR:
How do the trade leaders fare in CEO compensation? At the NAR, CEO Dale Stinton's salary is listed as just over $1.4 million in 2011. That will buy him a nice piece of real estate -- and he is the expert on such things -- but it will not get him location, location, location in Roger Goodell's 'hood. As NFL commissioner, Goodell hauls in $29.5 million, according to 2011 tax records. Please, don't mistake this Goodell with his father, Congressman Charles Goodell. As Gregg Easterbrook, the talented author of The King of Sports: Football's Impact on America, wrote in a piece adapted from his book in The Atlantic ,"Charles Goodell, a member of the House of Representatives for New York from 1959 to 1968 and then a senator until 1971, was renowned as a man of conscience -- among the first members of Congress to oppose the Vietnam War, one of the first Republicans to fight for environmental protection. … Were Charles Goodell around today, what would he think of his son's cupidity? Roger Goodell has become the sort of person his father once opposed -- an insider who profits from his position while average people pay."
Who else gets their pockets padded in the trades? It's not only Big Cheese Roger who makes out like a hedge funder at the NFL. Even former cheddar wheels, such as Paul Tagliabue, get a little something in their envelope. According to 2011 tax records, Tags received $1 million for averaging 0 hours of work per week. Zero. At the NAR, no one is listed as getting paid for nothing.
What public service do these tax-exempt trades provide? Of the $2.36 million in grants given away by the NFL in its most recent filings from 2011, the Pro Football Hall of Fame received $2.1 million for its Super Bowl Gallery/Future 50 expansion of 37,000 square feet and The United Way received $15,898 for kids who barely have shoes on their small feet. The NAR listed $285,000 in grants that were spent on housing relief and assistance to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.
What public crisis of confidence have these trades endured? Many have pointed the blame for the housing crisis of the Great Recession at the NAR, which, along with its banking friends, allegedly conspired in concocting a bubble. Now, after soul-searching and millions lost, the NAR is happy to report on its website an upswing in home sales for last year. The NFL asks taxpayers to basically subsidize brain injury while the league still blows smoke about the health of its players in hopes you'll catch its second-hand spin. Earlier this week, on CBS This Morning, Goodell was asked to respond to a quote in The New Yorker by President Obama, who said that if he had a son he would not let him play football. Without blinking, Goodell replied that NFL players "live longer than average males" with a "higher quality of life." Such comfort to the 4,500 players -- some depressed and suicidal -- who have sued the NFL for its conspiracy of denial over concussive effects and still await a judge to decide whether the league has supplied enough money to cover their care.
To be clear, 501(c)(6) organizations are not charities, but the government does gift them with breaks as long as they stick to the script of promoting a trade, not a brand. There is no bigger brand than the NFL. Of the big three sports, the NBA was never part of this loophole logic, and Major League Baseball gave up its tax-exempt status in 2007. Most citizens have no clue about this NFL grab because few politicians dare to point it out.
There is one man in D.C. who is spitting nails: Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma -- yes, a state without a NFL team -- who would like to see the NFL stripped of its tax-exempt status before he retires. In his holy bible of pork -- the 2012 Waste Book -- Coburn wrote,"hardworking taxpayers should not be forced to provide funding to offset tax giveaways to lucrative major professional sports teams and leagues." Can we get an "Amen?"
Few public policy wonks have joined Coburn's fight to get a bill passed on the issue but, according to Newsmax, an activist group called Rootstrikers, founded by Harvard law school professor Lawrence Lessig and political activist Joe Trippi, has launched an online petition to support Coburn's bill. Part of the petition reads: "The NFL has spent $3.6 million lobbying in recent years, and contributed more than $1.6 million to members of Congress. It leads all professional sports leagues in lobbying expenditures. No wonder Senator Coburn has yet to gain the support of his colleagues."
No wonder the NFL, richer than Madagascar (GDP $9.9 billion) and arguably more powerful than the Koch Brothers, has only just begun to play taxpaying saps who are subsidizing perks such as the NFL's Park Avenue offices where, by the way, the league pays over $13.5 million in rent, according to 2011 tax records. Imagine how you'll feel in 2027 when the league expects revenue to reach $25 billion and the party for such excess is still being hosted by you? How will you respond to this outrage as a taxpayer? You'll watch the game with Velveeta dip and big bowl of chips.