Super Bowl Sunday may be the year's biggest TV and advertising payday. But like rodeo riders on a small-town circuit, the Eagles and Patriots each need to win — or they could end up losing money by going to Minneapolis.
That's because Minnesota's income taxes, including the levies collected from pro athletes, are among the nation's highest — higher than Philadelphia's, even with that city's wage tax.
Minnesota collects 9.85 percent of the money paid to pro athletes and other workers — higher than in any other NFL state except California, which clips 13.3 percent. In Philadelphia, city residents pay a combined 6.96 percent (a little less if they live in the burbs.) Up in Foxboro, Massachusetts takes 5.1 percent of Patriots' pay.
To be sure, Super Bowl players on both sides collect fat checks. The winners gross $112,000 each, double the losers' $56,000.
But tax collectors don't reach in players' wallets only on game day, notes Robert Raiola, who, as chief of the sports and entertainment group at New York-based accounting firm PKF O'Connor Davies, represents pro athletes, including some NFL players from the Eagles and other teams.
Tax authorities also "jock-tax" athletes for practice on the days they're in town before the game. They pro-rate players' annual income, include other days the teams may have been in Minnesota for regular-season games and practices, and consider the taxes players pay elsewhere, before taking their cut.
Results: Raiola figures that the Eagles' $9 million-a-year star defensive tackle "Fletcher Cox will pay about $40,000 of state income tax to Minnesota, regardless of whether the Eagles win or lose." Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is expected to gross $15 million for the year, will pay more.
Add taxes to the expenses players run up during Super Bowl week, and defeated players are practically guaranteed "to lose money" on the trip, Raiola added: Many will invite an entourage of loved ones or friends to the Super Bowl and pay to transport, house and feed them, costing thousands more. "So you'd better win the game, or it's a very costly business trip."
At least this year's Super Bowl players will benefit from this year's federal income tax cuts, notes Joseph J. Criscuolo, managing associate at the Philadelphia accounting firm Drucker & Scaccetti. And Minnesota won't be able to touch, for example, the $9 million signing bonus paid Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery at the start of the season: that is last year's money.
Local taxes are still more complex for NBA players, with 82 regular-season games in dozens of cities, plus playoffs, says Paul Adelizzi, director at the Philadelphia office of New York-based accountants Citrin Cooperman. The firm's clients include pro athletes and entertainers, who face similar taxing challenges.
Many professionals and tradespeople travel; most are left on their honor to report any local tax liabilities. Why do states make a point of squeezing athletes?
They are easy targets: Their work schedule is widely reported. Raiola particularly credits the 1991 Lakers-Bulls NBA finals, when Chicago-area lawmakers realized that California was extracting large tax hauls at every L.A. game, and prevailed on their Illinois colleagues to "to go after the states bothering their guys."
Accountants also credit entrepreneurial Philadelphia tax adviser Nicholas Panarella with raising athletes' tax profile. Under Mayor Ed Rendell in the early 1990s, Panarella urged the city to dun thousands of pros for taxes unpaid on past visits. The city dispatched revenue agents even to the broadcasting booths where network talking heads were calling games, Criscuolo recalled. That inspired other states.
California now collects more than $250 million a year from pro athletes, according to state records cited by Raiola. Cincinnati, Detroit and Pittsburgh, like Philadelphia, add local income taxes. But in Minnesota and California, rates are so much higher that, even for the Eagles, it's "a lot cheaper to play at home," he concluded.