Tuesday, 23 Apr 2024

The Financial Strategies of Sports Team Owners: Maximizing Profits and Minimizing Taxes

how do sports teams make money

When it comes to professional sports team ownership, the game extends far beyond the field. The financial strategies employed by team owners can be as nuanced and competitive as the matches played by the athletes themselves. One particular approach has come under scrutiny: how billionaire team owners utilize their ownership to minimize taxes and maximize profits.

In this article, we dive into the world of sports team ownership, exploring the tax benefits that team owners enjoy and how they leverage these advantages to their financial gain. We’ll take a closer look at prominent examples, such as Steve Ballmer, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, and highlight the stark contrast between the tax rates paid by team owners and their millionaire players.

The Playbook: Tax Manipulation and Financial Magic Tricks

Sports team owners, particularly those in professional leagues like the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL, have mastered the art of utilizing the United States tax code to their advantage. When purchasing a business, including a sports team, owners can deduct a significant portion of the purchase price from their income over the following years. This deduction allows them to pay fewer taxes. Although this provision was intended to account for the depreciation of assets over time, the tax treatment of sports teams seems detached from economic reality.

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Unlike other industries, professional sports franchises enjoy near-guaranteed revenue streams, thanks to factors like player contracts and television deals. These assets retain their value due to the monopoly-like nature of sports franchises. Consequently, team owners, like Steve Ballmer, can deduct the value of these assets from their taxable income. This means that even if a team is profitable, owners can claim losses on their tax returns, reducing their overall tax burden.

The Billionaire Advantage: Paying Less Than the Players

The stark disparity between the tax rates paid by team owners and their players is a subject of concern. While team owners can manipulate their income and offset their losses, millionaire athletes pay a significant share of their earnings in taxes. Wage income, the primary source of revenue for players, is taxed at higher rates, reaching up to 37%, plus an additional 3.8% for Medicare. On the other hand, team owners, who accumulate most of their wealth through ownership and investments, benefit from lower tax rates.

For example, Steve Ballmer, the owner of the Clippers, paid only 12% in federal taxes on his $656 million income in 2018. In contrast, Lakers star Anthony Davis paid 40% in taxes on his $35 million income that same year. This discrepancy raises questions about the fairness of the tax system and the advantages enjoyed by billionaire team owners.

The NFL: A Profitable Game for Team Owners

Most financial analysts believe that running an NFL franchise is almost foolproof when it comes to making money. The league’s dominance in television ratings, combined with a hard salary cap that limits player salaries, creates a highly profitable environment. Each team receives an equal share of national revenue generated by broadcasting deals, guaranteeing substantial income. With these revenue streams, team owners can offset any losses and reduce their tax bills.

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One notable example is David Tepper, the owner of the Carolina Panthers. Tepper purchased the team for a record-setting $2.3 billion and subsequently reported tax losses of approximately $115 million in 2018, despite the team’s profitability. The tax benefits derived from the amortization of the Panthers’ acquisition cost significantly reduced Tepper’s overall tax burden, saving him millions of dollars.

Maximizing Profits, Minimizing Taxes: The Winning Formula

For billionaire team owners, the financial strategies employed to minimize taxes and maximize profits have become an integral part of their game plan. By taking advantage of tax loopholes and favorable provisions in the tax code, team owners can significantly reduce their tax bills. Although some team owners argue that these strategies align with business practices across various industries, critics question the fairness and long-term consequences of these practices.

In an era where income inequality has become a pressing issue, the disparity in tax rates between team owners and players highlights the need for a comprehensive reevaluation of the tax system. As sports franchises continue to increase in value, it is crucial to ensure a fair and equitable tax structure that benefits all stakeholders, from the athletes on the field to the fans in the stands.


Q: Do sports team owners pay lower taxes than their players?
A: Yes, team owners often pay significantly lower tax rates compared to their players. Team owners can manipulate their income and claim losses on their tax returns, reducing their overall tax burden. In contrast, players pay high tax rates on their wage income.

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Q: How do team owners benefit from owning a sports team?
A: Team owners enjoy numerous benefits from owning a sports team, ranging from the prestige and social status to the potential for substantial financial returns. Additionally, team ownership provides them with opportunities to leverage tax advantages and minimize their tax bills.

Q: Why do team owners report losses on their tax returns, even if their teams are profitable?
A: Team owners can claim losses on their tax returns by utilizing the amortization of assets, such as player contracts and television deals. By doing so, they can reduce their taxable income, even if their teams are making substantial profits in the real world.


The financial strategies employed by sports team owners to minimize taxes and maximize profits have raised questions about the fairness and transparency of the tax system. While team owners benefit from favorable tax provisions and deductions, players face higher tax rates on their wage income. As the value of sports franchises continues to soar, it is crucial to create a level playing field and ensure a tax system that promotes equity and fairness for all stakeholders involved.