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Commentator: NFL Exploits ‘Religious-Like Following’ To Secure Favors From Government

Whether it is securing public funds to pay for new stadiums or negotiating sweetheart deals with the federal government, “the NFL excels at tackling the American taxpayer,” claimed a writer for the libertarian website Mises Daily Friday.

Research by Harvard professor Judith Grant Long has shown that the pace of stadium construction has accelerated rapidly over the last twenty years, with taxpayers covering about 70 percent of the cost, on average.

In some cases, state and local governments even help to cover stadiums’ operating costs “by providing sewer services, electricity, stadium improvements, and other infrastructure.”

When those services are included in the calculation, Professor Long determined that “thirteen teams have made a handsome profit on stadium subsidies, thus receiving more money from the public than they needed to build their facilities.” (RELATED: Mark Cuban Thinks the NFL is Going Under in the Next Decade)

Stadium subsidies are frequently justified as being necessary to attract or retain franchises in the face of competing offers from alternative locations, but that reasoning cannot explain federal largesse toward the league.

Mises writer Salmaan A. Khan argued that thanks to “its religious-like following, the NFL receives the same tax-exempt status as a church.” In fact, the relevant statute, 501(c)(6), even includes “professional football leagues” by name, ostensibly so that the NFL can administer a players’ pension fund without exposing itself to antitrust action. (RELATED: Senators Push to Eliminate NFL’s Tax-Exempt Status, NFL Responds)

However, “the league’s most precious gift from the state is perhaps… [its] legal monopoly over broadcasting rights,” granted in 1966 under the same legislation that gave the NFL tax-exempt status.

That monopoly control was weakened somewhat on Tuesday, when the FCC voted to eliminate its sports blackout rules. Blackout rules, according to The Nation, were designed “to make sure that games would not be televised in local markets if the stadiums were not almost entirely sold out 72 hours prior to the broadcast.”

Blackout rules are considerably less important today than in 1966, “given that we are living in an era when 99 percent of games sell out,” and ticket sales make up an ever-shrinking portion of revenues, but the NFL nonetheless fought hard against the ruling. (RELATED: DHS Seizes $21.6 Million in Fake NFL Merchandise)

“The NFL spent decades fighting to receive subsidies from the government,” Brian Frederick of the Sports Fan Coalition told The Nation, adding that the league “fears that if it loses this subsidy, all these other subsidies would be subject to greater scrutiny, as they should be.”

Follow Peter Fricke on Twitter

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