Pandemic Super Bowl 2021: Billionaires Win, We Lose


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Source: Institute for Policy Studies

Introduction:

No matter who wins the 55th Super Bowl, the big winners in our COVID-ravaged economy are billionaires — including dozens of sports team owners.

Sixty U.S. billionaires — roughly one in ten of the country’s total billionaires — own one or more major league professional sports teams. Among these billionaires owners are the Hunt family, which owns the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Glazer family, which owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Three teams are owned by Canadians and one by a German).

Since the start of the pandemic lockdowns last year, pro sports teams have laid off large numbers of stadium workers and staff. And millions of sports fans have suffered job loss, sickness, and death. Yet these 64 billionaire sports barons have seen their wealth grow by over $98.5 billion — about what it would cost to send a $1,400 stimulus check to nearly half of all eligible Americans.

Much of this wealth relies on large gifts from American taxpayers, who have funded billions of dollars worth of tax subsidies for these teams and their billionaire owners over the years.

The winning streak of America’s billionaire sports owners is just part of the larger billionaire dominance of the U.S. economy during the pandemic. Since March 2020, America’s 661 billionaires have seen their wealth grow by 40 percent — climbing from $2.9 trillion to $4.13 trillion as of January 29, 2021.

This report, prepared by the Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness, showcases the rising fortunes of billionaire sports owners, highlights the taxpayer support they enjoy, and recommends policy changes to make the billionaires who’ve profited from the pandemic pay their share for relief.

Key Findings:

  • Sixty-four billionaire owners of 68 professional sports teams, have seen their wealth increase by over $98.5 billion, or 30 percent, over the last 10 months. They had a combined wealth of $426 billion on January 29, 2021, up from $325 billion on March 18, 2020.
  • These billionaire owners include the Kansas City Chiefs’ Hunt family, now worth $6.3 billion, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Glazer family, now worth $1.7 billion.
  • The wealth increases of billionaire sports team owners is part of a larger story of billionaire dominance. The 661 U.S. billionaires have seen their wealth grow by $1.18 trillion, or 40 percent, during the pandemic — climbing from $2.9 trillion to $4.13 trillion as of January 29, 2021.
  • Over the past several decades, according to data maintained by Field of Schemes, 28 pro sports teams owned by 26 billionaires have received $9 billion in taxpayer subsidies. These 26 billionaires have seen their wealth increase over $45 billion since March 2020.
  • The Kansas City Chiefs received $250 million in taxpayer subsidies for stadium renovations in 2006. Taxpayers provided a total of $218 million in subsidies for construction and renovation of the Buccaneer stadium in 1998 and 2015.
  • The $98.5 billion wealth gain by 64 sports franchise billionaires since March 2020 could pay for a stimulus check of $1,400 for over 70 million Americans — almost half of the roughly 150 million people who will be eligible under the pandemic relief plan proposed by President Biden.

a sampling of billionaire team owners

National Football League (NFL)

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, co-founder of the Home Depot, saw his wealth increase almost 35 percent since mid-March 2020, shooting up from $4.6 billion to $6.2 billion. Over the last five years, Blank’s wealth has increased $3.6 billion, or 139 percent. The Falcons received a $700 million taxpayer subsidy in 2016 for stadium construction and future upgrade costs.

Buffalo Bills owner Terrence Pegula, whose estimated wealth of $5.1 billion was built on fossil fuels and real estate, has seen his wealth increase by $1.1 billion, or 27.4 percent, over the last five years.

Los Angeles Rams owner Ann Walton Kroenke — who also co-owns the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and NHL’s Colorado Avalanche — is an heiress from Wal-Mart’s Walton clan. Over the last five years, Kroenke’s wealth has more than doubled, from $4.5 billion to $9 billion. Since March 2020, her wealth has increased $1.1 billion.

On the other hand, the NFL is also home to one team definitely not owned by a billionaire: The Green Bay Packers, who are owned by the citizens of Green Bay, Wisconsin. They’re the only professional franchise collectively owned by their fans.

National Basketball Association (NBA)

Atlanta Hawks owner Antony Ressler, a private equity mogul, has seen his wealth increase $2.8 billion, or 259 percent, since March 2016. His wealth has risen $1.2 billion, or 46 percent, in just the ten months since the pandemic began. In 2017, the Hawks received $142 million in taxpayer subsidies for renovations to their arena.

Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai saw his wealth increase $8 billion over the last five years, an increase of 190 percent. During the pandemic, his wealth has increased $2.2 billion, or 22 percent, from $10 billion to $12.2 billion.

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, co-founder of Quicken Loans, has seen his wealth jump an eye-popping 588 percent since mid-March 2020. That $38.3 billion boost in his fortune is one of the biggest percentage increases of any American billionaire. The Cavaliers received a $70 million taxpayer subsidy in 2017 for arena renovations.

Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, a Microsoft pioneer, has seen his wealth increase $27 billion since mid-March 2020, a rise of over 51 percent. Over the last five years, his wealth has increased $56 billion, or 240 percent.

Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera, a tech titan and one of the youngest billionaires in the world, has seen his wealth more than double during the pandemic. Over the past five years, Pera’s wealth has increased more than seven-fold, from $2 billion to $17.1 billion.

Major League Baseball (MLB)

Chicago Cubs owner J. Joe Ricketts, founder of TDAmeritrade and a GOP mega donor, has enjoyed a 140 percent, or $1.8 billion, pop in his wealth since March 2016, with $1.2 billion of the increase coming in the last ten months alone.

Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter, a financier, has seen his fortune surge by $1.6 billion in the past 10 months, rising from $2.7 billion to $4.3 billion, an increase of 59 percent.

Oakland A’s owner John J. Fisher, the billionaire son of the founders of The Gap, saw his wealth shoot up by more than 34 percent, or $713 million, to $2.8 billion over the first 10 months of the pandemic.

National Hockey League (NHL)

Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli, another tech billionaire, has seen his wealth increase $2.5 billion, or 72 percent, in the ten months since the beginning of the pandemic. Over the last five years, Samueli’s wealth has increased 131 percent, from $2.6 billion in 2016 to today’s $6 billion.

 

Recommendations

Tax reform that ensures the wealthy pay their fair share would transform a good chunk of these billionaire gains into public revenue to help heal a hurting nation. But it’s not as simple as just raising tax rates. Tax rules let the rich delay, diminish, and even avoid any tax on the growth in their wealth.

What’s needed is structural change to how wealth is taxed.

The most direct approach is an annual wealth tax on the biggest fortunes, an idea proposed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, among others. Another option is the annual taxation of investment gains on stocks and other tradable assets, an idea advanced by the new Senate Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden. If Wyden’s plan had been in effect in 2020, America’s billionaire sports owners would be paying billions of dollars in extra taxes this spring — even under the current discounted tax rates for investment income.

We also support a robust estate tax to limit the intergenerational transfer of these fortunes.

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