The Only Reason We Know Roger Goodell's Absurd Salary Is That The NFL Is Structured As A Non-Profit To Avoid Taxes

Yesterday, we mentioned that Roger Goodell's salary jump from two years ago had been released to the public via the NFL's public tax return, filed at the end of this week. His salary increased from roughly $11.6 million in 2010 to a take-home of $29.49 million in 2011, much of it in bonuses for unknown benchmarks. (Sports Business Journal says, "Goodell's aim is to dramatically increase NFL revenues," so that's probably one of them.) Now we know that Goodell is likely the only sports commissioner whose annual salary exceeds that of the highest-paid player in the league he runs. Stern and Selig are both thought to make around $20 million annually, a lower figure than the salaries of a handful of basketball players, and a larger handful of baseball players. Gary Bettman, paid $8 million annually, is also paid less than the superstars in the NHL.

Goodell's salary irked at least one NFL player even when Pro Football Talk was underestimating his looming pay raise around time last year:

It's now surpassed PFT's $20 million estimate, and those with their hands on the levers of power seem to be indicating that Goodell is more important to the health and functioning of the league than any individual player. If that causes tension, Goodell and the owners that pay him could easily hide his salary numbers— outside observers can only make educated guesses about Stern and Selig's compensation because those leagues are organized as for-profit entities—if the NFL didn't prefer to reap the benefits of the tax-exempt status and let the players and public fume.


Goodell's salary wouldn't be public knowledge were it not for a tricky bit of tax code that allows the league, which ranks behind only a select few tech, finance, oil and motor companies among the most profitable businesses in the world, to file taxes as a nonprofit organization, like Oxfam or Teach for America. From Senator Tom Coburn's Waste Book, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

In 2010, the registered NFL nonprofit alone received $184 million from its 32 member teams. It holds over $1 billion in assets. Together with its subsidiaries and teams – many of which are for-profit, taxed entities – the NFL generates an estimated $9 billion annually.

League commissioners and officials benefit from the nonprofit status of their organizations. Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, reported $11.6 million in salary and perks in 2010 alone. Goodell's salary will reportedly reach $20 million in 2019. Steve Bornstein, the executive vice president of media, made $12.2 million in 2010. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue earned $8.5 million from the league in 2010. The league paid five other officials a total of $19.2 million in just one year. In comparison, the next highest salary of a traditional nonprofit CEO is $3.4 million.

As that article notes, the MLB enjoyed the same status as recently as 2007, but "chose to surrender that status in part because as the salary information above illustrates, tax-exempt, non-profit status requires you to report the salaries of your top executives." In short, the MLB feared a public shaming, and decided to cede some of its profits to America's tax base in order to avoid the blowback. The NFL under Roger Goodell, on the other hand, is well beyond shame. That's why he's worth the money.


Roger Goodell's Compensation Nearly Tripled To $29.49M In '11 [Sports Business Journal]
Did you know That The NFL Is A Tax-Exempt Nonprofit? [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]