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Fleecing America: Rein in the NFL

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Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Public stadium subsidies and tax breaks worth about $1 billion annually are just the tip of the iceberg that is the NFL's fleecing of taxpayers.

Excerpting his book “The King of Sports” for The Atlantic, Gregg Easterbrook reminds how the Pittsburgh Steelers benefited from about $260 million in taxpayer funding to build Heinz Field and retire Three Rivers Stadium debt. They're also keeping $75 million for naming rights, plus most game-day revenues.

NFL franchises are for-profit businesses. But the league itself is technically a nonprofit — with an antitrust exemption.

Legislation passed during the 1960s lets the NFL negotiate TV rights, worth $4 billion this year, as a monopoly — and defined “professional football leagues” as nonprofits.

Mr. Easterbrook says this “has saved the NFL uncounted millions in tax obligations, which means that ordinary people must pay higher taxes, public spending must decline, or the national debt must increase to make up for the shortfall.”

What's to be done? Easterbrook urges revoking that nonprofit status and ending NFL owners' practice of “creating game images in publicly funded stadiums, broadcasting the images over public airwaves, and then keeping all the money they receive as a result.”

That would require Congress, as well as municipal and state officials, to correct priorities long out of order. But as Easterbrook also reminds, “Public handouts for modern professional football never end and are never repaid.”

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