When it came to the NFL lockout that shortened the the 2010 season's preseason, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson became a big name. Richardson claimed that the owners had a negative cash flow of $200 million in the seasons leading up to the lockout and said that the owners needed to "take back" their league.
According to leaked documents obtained by Deadspin.com, the Panthers actually made a profit of $112 million in the two seasons leading up to the lockout. The statements are for the years ending in March of 2011 and March of 2012 and they showed that Richardson and his partners were able to pay themselves $12 million.
The lockout decreased the players' share of revenue from 50 percent to 47 percent and gave the Panthers $33.3 million in operating profit for the new league year. On the field, the Panthers jumped from a 2-14 record to a 6-10 record the following year.
The players union repeatedly asked to see NFL team books during the lockout, but the owners repeatedly denied the request. This could be the reason why.
In 2011 and 2012, however, the cash position of the Panthers was healthy: $8.3 million and $38.4 million, respectively. Assuming Richardson's number has any basis whatsoever, it's likely he was factoring in an accounting sleight-of-hand known as the roster depreciation allowance (more on which later). "If one is searching for a reason for the early termination of the CBA and the lockout in 2011," writes Roger Noll, a sports economist at Stanford, in an email, "financial distress is not it!"
According to Dennis Howard, a business professor at the University of Oregon, Richardson's claim that the NFL owners were operating with a negative profit of $200 million is hard to believe, but he could have been factoring in the roster deprecation allowance, which he says is an accounting gimmick in which the owner of a franchise can write off 100 percent of the purchase price of a team in a 15-year period.
The RDA is an accounting gimmick whereby a new owner of a sports franchise gets to write off 100 percent of the purchase price of the team over a 15-year period, on the specious logic that a roster depreciates the same way, for instance, that your office's new fax machine does. That tax deduction shows up on the books as an operating expense, even though it's a pretend-loss that exists only in the quirks of the tax code. Thus, Stephen Ross, who purchased the Miami Dolphins for $1 billion, can claim an operational hit of nearly $70 million. "It has a huge impact on the bottom line," Howard says. "You're able to transform a real profit into an operational loss."
You can see the entire seven page 26-page financial statement here.
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