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April 3, 2012, 2:25 p.m.

Nonprofit status: A maybe for news orgs, a yes for the NFL

While countless news organizations wait to get 501(c)(3) approval from the IRS, the NFL is doing well as a not-for-profit.

I like football, so I was interested in this piece over at Pro Football Talk that details the salary of National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell. (That’s $11,554,000 — not bad.) But then I was surprised to see that this information came from the NFL’s just-filed Form 990.

Wait — 990? As in, the form nonprofits are required to file once a year?

Yep. At a time when civic-minded news organizations are battling for recognition from the IRS — in some cases waiting more then two years to hear whether they’ll be allowed to be nonprofits — the NFL is a not-for-profit. Filing 990s and everything. (Here’s a link to the NFL on Guidestar. The league describes itself as a “trade association promoting interests of its 32 member clubs.”)

Technically, the NFL isn’t a 501(c)(3) — that allows orgs that “Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition.” It’s a 501(c)(6), “Business Leagues, Chambers of Commerce, Real Estate Boards, etc.” And NFL teams themselves aren’t tax-exempt. But the NFL proper still managed to rake in $207 million in 2009, a number that’s no doubt grown since then.

I’m sure there are good legal reasons why the NFL is a nonprofit. But this isn’t the Nieman Football Lab. (Interesting take from Brian Frederick here. And this paper by lawyer Andrew Delaney argues the NFL is a “glorified tax shelter.”)

The future-of-journalism point here is that the NFL has found a spot in the vagaries of the tax code — a defined niche in which they can fit. Journalism doesn’t have that kind of a spot, as we’ve explored. I just wish the IRS could find a way to give dozens of small, community-oriented news organizations the same sort of status as one of America’s most successful companies.

Image by Jonathan Moreau used under a Creative Commons license.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email (joshua_benton@harvard.edu) or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     April 3, 2012, 2:25 p.m.
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