Mass. 1 of 11 states without ticket tax

Levy brings in millions elsewhere

LAST YEAR, nearly 3 million people walked through the gates of Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox, as bad as they were. More than 720,000 fans spun the turnstiles at TD Garden to watch in frustration as the Bruins failed to make the playoffs, while about the same number cheered the Celtics on to a seventh-place finish. Down in Foxborough, 550,000 spectators jammed Gillette Stadium for the Patriots’ eight home games for the 2014 season, and that doesn’t include preseason or postseason.

The Boston area has some of the country’s most loyal sports fans. It is the only region in the nation that played last year to 95 percent or higher capacity in all four major sports. Over the years, the fans’ faith in their teams is often taxed, but never their tickets. According to the Federation of Tax Administrators, Massachusetts is one of 11 states that does not levy a tax or surcharge on sporting events. In fact, a special exemption is written into state law barring taxes on tickets for sporting events, theater showings, and other amusements.

Some states subject sporting events to the sales tax, others have a separate amusement tax, and a handful levy a flat surcharge ranging from $1 to $3.50 per ticket.

If professional sports tickets in Massachusetts were subject to the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax, the state could reap more than $21 million a year from the nearly 5 million fans who went to major professional games during the last season, based on average ticket price.

The ticket tax exemption has been part of the law for decades. A spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue confirmed the agency has repeatedly affirmed the exemption for sporting events in rulings dating back as far as 1981.

Even tax-averse states such as Texas, Arizona, and Florida hit ticket-buyers with a tax. Delaware, which has no major sports franchise, levies a .384 percent tax on gross ticket receipts of $50,000 or more a month. The highest ticket tax is in Maryland, which hits fans with a 10 percent tax on the ticket price, though much of the revenue is dedicated to paying the debt service on the Baltimore Orioles stadium at Camden Yards. Nevada also has a 10 percent tax, but that applies to venues that seat up to 7,500 people; it drops to 5 percent for larger venues and there is an exemption for NASCAR events and minor league baseball games played in a stadium.

Several states permit counties or municipalities to levy a ticket tax, often to pay for bonds that were issued to build a stadium. In Arlington, Texas, for instance, voters approved a 10 percent ticket tax on baseball and football games to pay for the city’s $325 million portion of the $1.2 billion Cowboys stadium. That tax was on top of the statewide 6.25 percent sales tax that has no exemption for tickets and which goes to the general fund.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

Most states have an exemption for sporting events put on by nonprofits. Florida has an exemption on Super Bowl tickets if the game is held in the state.

Of the other states that exempt sporting events, only two—Maine and Rhode Island—do not have major sports franchises. States that do not tax tickets include New York, California, Illinois, Indiana, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.