Trump scares NFL with tax break threat, but will he do anything real about sports subsidies?

So Donald Trump’s tweet yesterday threatening to eliminate the NFL’s “massive tax breaks” got an immediate response from league commissioner Roger Goodell, who issued a press statement that of course the league believes that “everyone should stand for the national anthem,” and will get right on figuring out how to make players do that without violating collective bargaining laws. The lesson: Sanctions work!

Trump hasn’t yet responded to Goodell’s letter, but one has to figure he’ll probably call off the tax break attack dogs now that they’ve achieved what he unleashed them for. Which would be a shame, as I note in an op-ed today for the Washington Post website, because if the president really wanted to rein in public subsidies for pro sports, there’s plenty he could do:

The use of tax-exempt bonds for sports stadiums is a problem that goes back to a time when Trump was still a USFL owner suing the NFL. The practice, which effectively provides sports franchises with low-interest loans at the expense of the federal treasury, has cost taxpayers an estimated $3.2 billion across all pro sports since the turn of the millennium…

And that stadium tax break — if it was what Trump was getting at (even his own press secretary seemed unclear which public money he was talking about) — is only the tip of the sports-subsidy iceberg. Even at $200 million a year, the public cost of tax-exempt bonds is dwarfed by the flood of cash flowing from state, county and city governments to sports teams.

Please go read it now. There’s a good bit at the end with David Minge in it.


6 comments on “Trump scares NFL with tax break threat, but will he do anything real about sports subsidies?

  1. Like many readers of this site I definitely would prefer for the discussion around subsidies for sports teams to focus on the economics. However, I appreciate there are individuals out there who are offended by NFL players not standing for the anthem or for “disrespecting the flag”. That is there right but as a veteran of Iraq who was wounded there part of what I felt I was helping defend was the right of individuals to protest peacefully (in good taste or not). This is also what I told people when they protested in the streets or in front of U.S. embassies. THAT is the beauty of democracy: being able to disagree. Now it is also acceptable for people to be angry at the NFL (as a hypocrite who watches every Sunday I dislike their lack of concern about player actions off the field and the ever present issue of CTE) but I’d rather individuals who want to stand up for veterans focus on diverting TIF money from the NFL to the VA not just name calling or being bereaved on my behalf or on behalf of the friends I lost overseas.
    P.S. Mr. deMause, I loved Field of Schemes and am now buying it for my friends as a holiday gift (they are economic and sports nerds too).

  2. The Republicans announced today that they are getting rid of tax-exempt bonds for stadium building as part of tax reform, so your fears that Trump wouldn’t lean on Congress to do anything seem unfounded.

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