Big time sports, be they professional teams or high-profile university programs, are big time business. But how much is the average citizen, whether a sports fan or not, paying to subsidize the commerce of our culture’s athletic obsession?
Quite a bit, argues David Sirota, in his recent article over at In These Times, “Didn’t Watch the Super Bowl? You Still Got Charged: 4 Ways Everyone in America Pays a Sports Tax, including $1 billion a year to the NFL.”
“That term—Sports Tax—is not hyperbolic,” says Sirota. “In a week that saw Louisiana fork over $5 million to the NFL for the privilege of helping that league make big Super Bowl money, Sports Tax is the most accurate catch-all label for the four sets of levies the public is being made to shell out.”
He goes on to outline the 4 types of sports taxes, including rigged tax codes taken advantage of by professional teams, underwriting for public university athletics, and public finances allocated for stadium construction (citing a Bloomberg Businessweek study stating that “taxpayers have committed $18.6 billion since 1992 to subsidies for the NFL’s 32 teams, counting the expense of building stadiums, forgone real estate taxes, land and infrastructure improvements, and interest costs on public bonds”).
But what is most surprising is Sirota’s fourth tax, the sports subsidy “embedded” in the monthly television bills from our cable or satellite providers.
“Though this levy is not itemized on your bill,” notes Sirota, “the Los Angeles Times reports that up to half of your total cable payment is “for the sports channels packaged into most services.” That’s because the sports stations tend to charge significantly higher rates than other outlets, and yet are automatically included in most basic cable packages, thereby preventing ratepayers from opting out. The result is a tax obligating those who do not watch sports to subsidize those who do.”
Television stations bid billions for the right to broadcast games from the various sports leagues. And as you may have noticed, much of that content is carried on cable sports stations.
We’re a long way from the old days when Red Sox and Bruins games were on local Boston channel 38, and the Celtics were on channel 56 (to say nothing of the old, old days of infamous radio broadcaster Johnny Most). And it doesn’t look like we’re headed back there any time soon.