Tennessee Moving to Repeal ‘Jock Tax’ on Pro Athletes

Published March 28, 2014

Professional basketball and hockey players probably won’t mind playing in Tennessee anymore.

State legislators are expected to repeal the state’s infamous “jock tax” within the next few weeks.

Two companion bills, one in the state Senate, the other in the state House, are moving through the General Assembly. 

A bill sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) soon will make its way to the Senate floor, though a vote hasn’t been scheduled, said Johnson’s spokesman, Rachel Lee.

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. David Alexander (R-Winchester), is scheduled for a vote Wednesday, said Alexander’s spokeswoman Kim Reasonover.

Governor’s Signature Expected

NHL Player’s Association spokesman Sam Reed told Tennessee Watchdog on Thursday he and others involved in the matter expect Gov. Bill Haslam (R) to sign the legislation into law.

“We’ve been pressuring like heck to have a full-on repeal,” Reed said.

The NHLPA supported Johnson’s attempt to repeal the law last year, but officials with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies opposed it.

Johnson’s efforts last year fell by the wayside after the parties involved tried to resolve the matter by talking amongst themselves.

Things changed this year, Reed said.

“There was a recognition on behalf of the Memphis Grizzlies that maybe this wasn’t the best way to be bringing in money. There was some pressure exerted from the NBA itself,” Reed said.

A spokesman for the Grizzlies did not return Tennessee Watchdog’s request for comment.

Revenue Goes to Entertainment

“Jock tax” revenue from NBA players who play in Memphis goes to pay the upfront costs of well-known entertainers who perform at the city’s FedEx Forum.

Opponents of the Predators hockey team in Nashville, meanwhile, are supposed to pay taxes that benefit events at the Bridgestone Arena. Under the terms of a collective-bargaining agreement, however, hockey league owners reimburse players for that tax.

According to the two bills, Grizzlies officials would have two years to find an alternative revenue stream before the tax ceases to exist.

For hockey officials, meanwhile, the tax goes away immediately, Reed said.

How will Bridgestone officials compensate?

“The Bridgestone arena has no shortage of acts coming through there, and the large majority of them are extremely profitable,” Reed said.

“Nashville is now a marquee town for that kind of entertainment.”

The tax, which went into effect in 2009, is levied on professional basketball and hockey players at $2,500 each for no more than three games per season played in Tennessee. The state imposes the “jock tax” regardless of whether the athletes play for a team from Tennessee or another city.

NFL Players Exempted

Billy Trout, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Revenue, told Tennessee Watchdog last year that members of the 2009 Tennessee General Assembly purposefully kept out language that would have imposed the tax on NFL players.

Johnson said at the time he didn’t know why the state made NFL players exempt.

Tennessee gets about $3.5 million a year from the tax.

According to a 2009 story in Tax Career Digest, the concept of a “jock tax” began 22 years ago in California, when state officials wanted to take revenge against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls for beating the Lakers in the NBA Finals. More than 40 states have since implemented “jock taxes” of their own, according to the article.