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« Exclusive: ESPN, NBC Finalizing Ryder Cup Rights Trade | Main | This Week In Golf Channel Ratings: Tiger, Big Numbers Return »
Friday
Dec132013

ESPN Outside The Lines Reports On PGA Tour As A "Charity"

Under the strange headline, "Tax breaks power PGA Tour giving," ESPN's Outside The Lines and reporter Paula Lavigne exam the PGA Tour's charitable giving. They find that as far as "responsible" charities go, the tour is not really a charity.

Charity Navigator, the watchdog group which sets it standard to determine what a responsible charity is, says at least 65 percent of money raised should be spent on charity.

The PGA Tour average was about 16 percent.

Only one PGA Tour event, ESPN found, exceeded that standard: the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am run by the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, which came in at an impressive 79 percent. ESPN also notes that the Shriners Hospital lost more than $4.5 million over two years. All numbers are from 2011 and yeras prior.

The tour, not surprisingly, was uncooperative and refused to go on camera which in time may be viewed as a collosal mistake because (A) most television viewers believe that refusing to go on camera is an admission of wrong-doing, and (B) Tim Finchem, say what you will, can handle himself just fine talking about these things.

So instead, the PGA Tour responded in emails and phone interviews and I'm not sure the bake sale line will be treasured in charity circles:

"It's as if no good deed goes left unpunished," he said. Votaw declined an in-person interview but answered some questions via email and on the phone.

Tour officials don't dispute that the percentage donated to charity is low, but they say it simply shouldn't matter. What's more important is the bottom line, Votaw said.

"This isn't a bake sale where there is no overhead and everything is contributed," he wrote in email. "A tournament is a major undertaking that requires significant planning, setup and operation, all of which requires significant expense beyond the time contributed by volunteers."

Frankly, I found parts of the story to be eye-opening and others not so compelling, perhaps because we've examined PGA Tour numbers here in the past. That the PGA Tour has not paid $200 million or so in taxes over the last 10 to 20 years, especially in light of other financial crimes committed in that time frame and compared to a PGA Tour event's impact on a community, seems somewhat minor.

However, when ESPN got into the details of the charity spending, the story has more impact. Take this on Youth Programs, Inc in Memphis, beneficiary of the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

On its publicly available IRS form, the purpose of Youth Programs Inc. is to "host an annual professional PGA Tour sports event for the benefit of charitable organizations." In 2011, it made $15.3 million, about 89 percent of that from the golf tournament. It spent $15.3 million, which included about $6 million in prize money for the golfers and $5 million in TV promotion. It spent close to $1 million on tournament production and $500,000 on food and beverages, most likely at a discount, because Youth Programs is also exempt from paying sales tax in Tennessee.

The amount actually spent on charity -- the money given to St. Jude's -- was $1.5 million, or 10 percent of tournament expenses. Only $253,742 of that was actual cash to the research hospital. The rest went to St. Jude ads aired during the televised tournament, pro-am entry fees and air travel for celebrities.

If they spent that much on ads, just imagine how much of the First Tee money raised has been spent on that program's excessive "messaging."

Perhaps a follow-up story will come on a topic that was largely glossed over, but examples of executive overcompensation were few and far between, especially compared to other charities.

The IRS records of other tournaments' finances raise other red flags, including some higher-than-standard salaries, contractors tied to board members or directors, and questionable expenses, such as the Waste Management Phoenix Open paying almost $650,000 to Waste Management of Arizona for trash removal.

"I think it's really awful. I think that it's deceiving the public, and that it's a house of cards that eventually will fall," Charity Navigator's Berger said.

Wow. House Of Cards. Way harsh. BTW, the House of Cards season 2 trailer is live!

Sorry, go on...

Although Berger argues that the tournaments can and should donate more if they operated as regular businesses, Votaw said that losing the tax-exempt status would have a "chilling effect on the PGA Tour's ability to continue to contribute millions of dollars to charity."

"The objective of a for-profit corporation is to enrich its owners," he said. "We prefer to enrich communities. The tax laws also do not incentivize for-profit corporations to make significant gifts to charity."

And this is a key point for the tour to keep hammering home in rebuttal: the economic impact of tournaments on communities can be profound (just picture a tour wife going shopping).

But you thought the USGA's cash-hording was scary and evidence of corporate thinking running a non-profit? Check out this bankroll:

Many people take the "nonprofit" designation an organization has as meaning it cannot keep any money it makes above expenses. But that's not true. The PGA for years has carried over profits -- to the tune of $700 million as of 2011. A feature on Finchem this year in Forbes magazine cites the tour's savings as giving the tour a "competitive advantage" that preserved its TV contracts even as corporate sponsors wavered in a shaky economy.

That $700 million is likely what the tour would have paid taxes on were it not structured as a nonprofit, said Brad Borden, a tax law professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York, who reviewed the tour's finances for "Outside the Lines."

"It seems very unfair ... at a time when [the government is] cutting services, they are also providing a subsidy to professional athletes who are playing a game. And this is very troubling."

The story also goes into Senator Tom Coburn's PRO Sports Act to take away the tour's non-profit status, which has been resisted in part by $500,000 in PGA Tour lobbying in 2011. (The NFL spent $60,000 on lobbying at the same time...something tells me they've been spending more lately!)

Votaw says it's not fair to combine Coburn's attempt to take away the tour's nonprofit status with an examination of its individual tournaments -- which would not lose their tax-exempt status under the provisions in Coburn's bill.

"We believe that Sen. Coburn's bill would have a chilling effect on the amount of money raised for charity while generating very little in additional tax revenues," Votaw said. "Sen. Coburn has spent a lifetime trying to reduce the size and scope of government and believes in a strong private sector. If charity is chilled as a result of his proposed bill -- and we believe it will be -- the local organizations that benefit from the PGA Tour will likely turn to government for help.

"In many respects, the tour is the embodiment of what Sen. Coburn believes in. The cost of the exemption is negligible, but the private sector support for charity that is generated is extraordinary and unprecedented in professional sports."

Here is the video version of the Outside The Lines story by Lavigne and producer Arty Berko.

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Reader Comments (42)

Lots of shocking numbers in there... The half a million for lobbying work bothers me the most
12.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan
The notion that the economic impact of PGA Tour events for local communities is substantial is overblown. There is a large economic literature suggesting that the net benefits of building athletic stadiums to local communities is virtually nil, and I don't see what makes a PGA Tour event any different. These events move around where entertainment and charity dollars are spent; they don't generate new ones.
12.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoger
The PGA tour isn't a charitable non-profit, and neither is the NFL. And the primary purpose of a PGA Tour event isn't to raise money, it's to hold a professional sporting event. Those sporting events have costs, including winnings, salaries etc. the same way an NFL game, or NBA game work. It's not the same thing as a fundraiser, which is what the charity experts are comparing it to. If we accept that the point of PGA Tour events isn't charity, the practices aren't really an issue, although the tax exemptions probably are. And for a professional sporting event, PGA Tour events do give a lot of money to charities.

One problem I have with charitable raters in general is how they deal with costs. Essentially the way the categorize costs is an economic fallacy. Consider:

Charity Fundraiser A: Hosts a dinner, the food costs of $200 are donated by a caterer and they pay the venue $150. The fundraiser brings in $1000. The way charity watch groups rate charities, this fundraiser brought in $1000 had costs of $150 and donated $850 and therefore donated 85% of what it brought in, earning an A rating

Charity Fundraiser B: Hosts the same dinner, has the same $200 in food costs, which is covered by a monetary donation to the charity, pays the same venue the same $150 and brings in $1200 (the same 1000 + the 200 for the food), and therefore donates the $850. The charity watch groups though rate it differently, because the donation that covered the food was money instead of services the charity watch groups say that the fundraiser only donated 70% of the money raised 1200 raised and spent 350 in costs.

As anyone who has taken economics can tell you, in kind donations have a value equal to their cash value, which is of course why the two fundraiser actually gave the same amount to charity.
12.13.2013 | Unregistered Commenterelf
I counted 18 tournaments that gave less than 20% of their income. The federal government suggests that an "effective" charity should only KEEP 20% of income for operating costs.

No surprise that Waste Mafia's tournament has a lucrative back end deal like that. Absolute crooks.
Gross revenues are not "income" that should be the figure that donations are compared to. Sure, if there are insider deals, they can be quesitoned - for example at Phoenix, how much would an arms length proposal be for trash removal on an event of this size compared to the $650k that they paid Waste Management ? I also agree that free TV ads being counted as a "donation" is a stretch - on the other hand,what if those free ads resulted in more donations from the general public ?

I agree with @Elf that we are not looking at apples/apples here. And that a for profit company would donate more of their net income to charity is ludicrous. How much do rock stars donate for their concerts in each venue ?
12.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianS
Wow! I agree with Ryan, but when you have a really good thing going you pay lobbyists a lot of money because they want it to continue. The salaries these guys and their boards are giving themselves is really out of control, and that goes for our friend running the First Tee-Mr. Barrow, Mike Davis at the USGA, the PGA of America CEO-Bevaqua. Out of control. If I was making the money Tim Finchem and his VP's make, I too would hire a lobbyist to protect my gig.
12.13.2013 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
BTW for purposes of education/this discussion a 501(c) organization is a non-profit that is exempt from taxes, then their are a number of categories. The 3 category that the pga tour, and the events falls under is actually defined as (so charity yes, but not exclusively):

501(c)(3) โ€” Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations
12.13.2013 | Unregistered Commenterelf
Where is DTF when you need him? He should have an interesting take on this.
12.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterOWGR Fan
@OWGR Fan

I bet he's doing research as we speak-- he always comes prepared!!
@Elf...you're wrong. The PGA Tour is a 501(c)(6) non-profit athletic league. 501(c)(3) charities have nothing to do with it.
12.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSergio Garcia
@Sergio the pga tour is a 501(c)(6) the events are run by non-profits that are a 501(c)(3)
12.13.2013 | Unregistered Commenterelf
Salaries of the PGA Tour brass would be shocking to people, especially with "tax exempt" status. I would bet to say the top ten executives at PGA Tour make a combined $30 million per year in salaries.
I think this is a shady area that many of us feared would be exposed some day. The revelations around the ubiquitous Pink Ribbon charities a few year ago should have told us that illumination was imminent. As much as I want to see any high-gloss financial manipulation exposed, I'd for any decent charity to lose a dime over this. But I fear it may happen.
12.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterClaude
You guys are missing the best line from the article - "Wow. House Of Cards. Way harsh. BTW, the House of Cards season 2 trailer is live!"
Way to go Geoff!
12.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterGus
The salaries aren't shocking, again the PGA Tour and the PGA Tour competitions aren't your local non-profit charity. The Tour, USGA, NFL etc are multimillion dollar businesses, and their salaries are in line with comparable positions. And it makes sense, if you want to those organizations to be able to compete for the best talent. If on the other hand you are offering far less, you're going to get what you pay for (or you strike gold with someone like Michael Whan, who is on the up, but people like that are hard to find and generally leave).
12.13.2013 | Unregistered Commenterelf
If you look at the percentage of profits given to local charities it's staggeringly high. One of the best charities around. All salaries are reasonable to any other business. This story is ridiculously misleading and biased. Just give the money to the government instead of charities. It won't affect the tour. Just the charities. Remember, charity does not exist in a socialist society. But make no mistake, pay the volunteers and government, or give the money to charity. Neither will affect the Tour or Players. Just those in need currently receiving the distributions.
12.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul j
Paul j, I thought one of Deane Beman's signature accomplishments as commish was making the tour a non-profit, because it freed it up in terms of how it dictates to players, among other things. If I got that right, that'd be bad for Finchem et al, but I don't know about events or players.

And isn't this author singling out the tour? What ABOUT the NFL, MLB, etc? Don't they operate the same way? They're bigger money than the tour any day, and you'd think, bigger abusers of that status if they have it.
@ A Living Icon.... MLB gave up its non profit status in 2007. NBA is a for profit set up. NFL is non profit.
12.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterOWGR Fan
That charity watchdog and the government recommendations both seem to have very high standards of the percentage of raised funds that should be distributed (65% and 80% respectively). It's good to have ideals, but in reality very few of the major charities can live up to them.

Many charities are privately owned, and the owners pay themselves very high salaries. I don't know what the US law states as a minimum percentage that has to be shown to be donated, but in Australia it's around 6.5%. It's also vague about what constitutes a donation. For example, there was a case where two privately owned charities both raised funds for disabled athletes. Once a year, they sent each other a cheque, thus satisfying the minimum requirements.

A lot of charity winds up in the hands of corporations, for example the high costs of advertising and lobbying. The worst cases of this are actually shown in the 'foreign aid' that governments give. Australia 'gives' Papua New Guinea millions of dollars to build infrastructure, which gets paid to an Australian company which then builds a road to nowhere through the jungle. Oops... did I say nowhere? Well, nowhere the locals need to go, but it is handy for the Australian mining company operating at the end of that road. Similarly, when the US 'gave' 600 million to Africa to fight AIDS, the money didn't buy any condoms or provide education about HIV. It went to pharmaceutical companies to provide anti-retroviral drugs, which could only be received if the governments agreed to ban the much cheaper generic drugs that people had been relying on. My point being that no senator of other government employee has any right to point fingers until they fess up to their own dodgy dealings.
12.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBlackballed Vijay
1) I thought, that a part of PGA Tour business was for profit (at one time, TPCs for instance). Non-profit and for profit under one large umbrella?
2) Is the PGA Tour non-profit meeting the established IRS requirements? Not a "watch-dog" groups?
3) Is the tour misrepresenting themselves
4) IMO, the First Tee needs some scrutinizing.
12.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterOld Man
It's one thing not to go on camera. Where was Finchem in a story of this significance. One of your best observations, Geoff. Finchem could handle these questions just fine. Instead, you send a guy who makes the "bake sale" analogy? Did any of these calls even get through to Finchem?
12.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterGo Blue
The fact that charities benefit from net proceeds of tournament activity is indisputable. Each tournament business model is a bit different but the charitable giving and the value of the community involvement does wonders for civic pride. It's fair to question the expenses that are deducted from gross proceeds to insure that they are reasonable, however, the overall benefit of a community hosting a PGA Tour event goes way beyond the economic benefit to the charity. Economic impact outside of the tournament venue is enormous and provides tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue to the local, state and federal government. In Phoenix, the economic impact exceeds $200M, which is taxable at at least 10% when you factor in bed taxes, sales taxes etc. Additionally, prize money is taxable on a state and federal level in each state where an event takes place, regardless of the players state or country of residence. On a $10M purse, that revenue provides an additional $2-$4M in state and federal taxes. The PGA tour players, caddies, officials and staff all pay state and federal income tax on their earnings. Television networks pay rights fees and other expenses for the rights to televise events. Sponsors write big checks from their marketing budgets to build their brands and entertain their customers at these events. Volunteers take time off from their jobs to spend a week working as marshals, scorekeepers, courtesy car dirivers etc.
So the idea is to try to squeeze a few more tax dollars out of these event to support our bloated, inefficient federal government and give Obama more money to increase the entitlement society?
12.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAzAce
Blackballed Vijay, to your point, this is why more and more wealthy donors are cutting out the "middle-men" and doing the dirty work themselves, to ensure the dollars they commit are actually doing what they want. There was a good segment on a recent 60 Minutes profiling this very thing.
12.14.2013 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
Not to mention the PGA Tour retirement plan: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB109771287850844910

"On page 598 of the 650-page bill, at the end of a section designed to limit the use of corporate "deferred compensation" plans, is an exemption for any plan "established or maintained by an organization incorporated on July 2, 1974." In other words -- the PGA Tour Inc., the nonprofit association whose members play on the professional golf circuit."
12.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeaner
The PGA Tour is not a "charity", and it should not be compared to "charities" based on any metrics. A charity such as the Autism Speaks or something similar has one mission - to raise funds to address it's specific area. Donations to this charity are tax deductible for donors, and net proceeds are tax exempt for the organization. It is reasonable to look at the overheads and other expenses for these organizations to determine how much goes towards the "mission", as compared to delivery of the event. Even for these organizations, I believe it is not appropriate to calculate a % of "expenses" for donations to compare organizations. My daughter sells Girl Scout Cookies. The pay $XX for the cookies, and sell them for $XX plus a markup. Some of the markup goes towards helping the girls and so forth and some up it goes towards administration. To me, it is relevant to examine that split. What is not relevant is to look at the total cost of the cookie, and compare the donation to the total. For PGA events, as stated above by several, they donate a portion of the net proceeds of the events and the season. Looking at the donation as a % of the net proceeds is what I would think is relevant - not the donation as % of "expenses", which makes no sense, unless you are trying to sensationalize the situation, which of course these writers are.
12.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianS
Tax dodging as a business model is right out of the conservative play book.
12.14.2013 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
maybe they should award the players money AFTER deductions for a min amount to charity.
after all, to listen to some of the players, they are only there to play FOR Charity.
12.14.2013 | Unregistered Commentermorphy
Tlavin-it's an intellectually lazy position to claim that tax dodging is a uniquely conservative practice.
12.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy
On an individual basis, because of charity "expenses", we do as many others and donate directly, such as paying off someone's bill on lay-away in Wal Mart or Target at Christmas time. A "100%" donation.
12.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterNouveau
Loved the link to the trailer for House of Cards 2. Thanks.
12.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve
Everyone avoids taxes, including this Resident Lefty. Some just don't want to pay for the things they covet. This includes Right, Left, Mouth Breathers, and Clueless.

The TOUR is just taking advantage of local organizations such as the Salesmanship Club in Dallas and the WGA/Evans Scholars Program, the Davis Love Foundation in my old stomping grounds. PVB should just stop it. No one is fooled and they look ridiculous.

Nouveau is doing it right.
12.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
Something smells stinky here.....
12.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterChicago pt
Thanks for thinking of me fellas ;)

Dodged the weather long enough to get in 15 holes today but the rain finally got us. Haven't had a chance to read this yet but will pose a couple questions, and make a challenge to the reporter.

Remember the Kingsmill PGA Tour event? It ended in 2002 but was grandfathered in as one of five events that were "for profit"...

...who were the other 4?

Hint: three are ongoing.

Challenge: Paula Lavigne, bet you a round of Mount Gay Southside's you cannot get that paragon of virtue known as, The King, to produce the charity give track record for The Bay Hill Classic. Iron Byron's event can document it to the penny, so we know it can be done...
12.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
Since the money the PGAT generates tends to be rather large, are there any bylaws that dictate each tournament must use GAAP principles when calculating their "charity" numbers?

...Or is it simply an exercise in Pro-Forma creative bookkeeping on an ad-hoc basis...pushed to the limits? Would Ken Lay be proud?
12.14.2013 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz
If anyone is looking for a charity that can be trusted to do the right thing with their hard earned $$$$'s, look no further than the Jimmy V Fund.....their record is exemplary.
12.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
@DTF, an honest question as I feel like you've hinted before: Are you not a fan of AP? Something we don't know about the King? Interested in your thoughts.
12.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRock Contarte
Rock, it all depends on the lense you have access to look through...

...lots of people think they know what the Statue of Liberty looks like, but if you actually walk the stairs the impression is waaaay different than what one gets from the observation deck at the Empire State Building.
12.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
To answer DTF's question: Bay Hill, Memorial & Colonial. Don't know how Players Champ is currently structured...used to be a (c)4. I'd be curious to know the tax structure of the WGCs.

You can be assured that Inside-the-Beltway scrutiny is the Tour's biggest fear. That's why they work DC so hard. Fallout from this story might put a damper on upcoming $2 Billion charity "announcement"
12.16.2013 | Unregistered CommenterStumpy Pepys
There is also a huge misconception on how much is actually given to charity.TICKETS FOR CHARITY is all claimed as donations to charity, but rarely do charities truly benefit to the amount that is claimed by the tour. As an example, the tournaments give the tickets to charity to sell at whatever price that they may, but the Tour still claims the full ticket value as dollars to charity.
12.16.2013 | Unregistered CommenterKevin
Good point Kevin. Remember Sheila Johnson the USGA Exec Committee member that came under some recent scrutiny here? Her husband Bob used to own the Charlotte Bobcats (can you believe he'd name the team that way?) and they had an affiliated "charity" called the Bobcats Charitable Foundation. He would actually *sell* tickets to his charitable arm and then distribute them to schools and such -- just amazing. The rest of the charitable funds were used to throw a lavish horse show in the name of "charity", wouldn't you know it that his daughter was a top rider of show jumpers!
12.16.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF

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