ESPN Got a Boatload of Tax Breaks
The Equity Factor

ESPN Got a Boatload of Tax Breaks

A New York Times analysis explores the $260 million in tax breaks and credits that ESPN has received in the last 12 years.

ESPN studios. Credit: Flickr user thelehegarets

This is your first of three free stories this month. Become a free or sustaining member to read unlimited articles, webinars and ebooks.

Become A Member

ESPN, a company that takes in more than $6 billion annually in subscriber fees alone, has received some pretty plush tax credits over the years, according to the New York Times. In the past 12 years, the sports network — whose parent company, Disney, isn’t exactly starving for cash either — has received about $260 million in tax breaks and credits in Connecticut, where the company is headquartered.

Much like sports teams looking for handouts, ESPN made hollow threats to leave Bristol, its home since 1979. In March 2000, Edwin M. Durso, a senior executive at the network, testified before lawmakers to have the tax formula changed for broadcasters. (Connecticut had done the same for financial companies three years prior.) From the Times:

Asked by a lawmaker if ESPN would consider putting the development in another state, Mr. Durso referred to the corporate connection to Disney: “They have facilities in many different states.”

The tax code was changed, reducing ESPN’s taxes by roughly $15 million a year. Meanwhile, there was no way the Worldwide Leader in Sports would have packed up and left its 123-acre compound in Bristol.

The Times has all the details on various credits sought by ESPN, from $6.2 million for a TV miniseries to $54 million for creating (Because, surely, the company would never have invested in the rapidly developing Internet without tax breaks.)

As we have argued here many times, the United States has a subsidies problem. Why, for instance, does Nike, a company that made $25.3 billion in revenue during fiscal year 2013, get tax breaks from the state of Oregon? There’s a recurring theme: Threatening lawmakers with the prospect of leaving.

“Nike put an economic gun to the governor’s head and said you either guarantee the law won’t change or we’ll go elsewhere,” Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, told the Wall Street Journal last December.

You can’t really blame ESPN or Nike. They’re just playing the game, and the rink is tilted in favor of big corporations who need tax breaks the least.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.

Follow Bill

Tags: real estateequity factortaxessports

Next City App Never Miss A StoryDownload our app ×

You've reached your monthly limit of three free stories.

This is not a paywall. Become a free or sustaining member to continue reading.

  • Read unlimited stories each month
  • Our email newsletter
  • Webinars and ebooks in one click
  • Our Solutions of the Year magazine
  • Support solutions journalism and preserve access to all readers who work to liberate cities

Join 656 other sustainers such as:

  • Peter at $5/Month
  • Anonymous at $120/Year
  • Anonymous in Vancouver, BC at $10/Month

Already a member? Log in here. U.S. donations are tax-deductible minus the value of thank-you gifts. Questions? Learn more about our membership options.

or pay by credit card:

All members are automatically signed-up to our email newsletter. You can unsubscribe with one-click at any time.

  • Donate $10 or $5/Month

    Next City notebook

  • Donate $20 or $5/Month

    The 21 Best Solutions of 2021 special edition magazine

  • Donate $40 or $10/Month

    Brave New Home by Diana Lind