1980 Hail Mary Pro Football Case Decided in Supreme Court
As the only Ohio professional football team to make it to the Super Bowl (sorry Cleveland Browns fans), the Cincinnati Bengals brought a case to the Ohio Supreme Court more than 30 years ago. In honor of this weekend’s big game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, here is what the court decided in 1980.
The Bengals challenged an Ohio Board of Tax Appeals decision determining the team’s franchise tax “payroll factor.” In 1979, the board upheld a decision by the tax commissioner that 100 percent of the Bengals’ payroll should be apportioned to Ohio to decide the Bengals franchise tax liability for 1973 and 1974.
The Bengals argued in the Supreme Court that compensation paid to “seasonal” football players and their part-time scouts for games played and services performed outside Ohio should not count toward calculating the payroll. The Supreme Court did not buy the team’s argument and agreed with the board’s decision.
In its unanimous per curiam (not assigned to a specific justice) decision, the court concluded that the Bengals improperly applied R.C. 5733.05(B)(2)(b) “by not allocating 100 percent of the corporation’s payroll to Ohio for purposes of calculating the franchise tax.” The court noted in its opinion that the Bengals had allocated portions of its payroll and sales to other states for 1973 and 1974.
The opinion also points to the section of the statute about whether the corporation has a “base of operations” within Ohio.
“In the mechanics of operating a professional football team which represents Cincinnati, appellant most definitely has its ‘base of operations’ in Ohio. Pre-season training and a majority of the practice sessions are in Ohio. The players are briefed as to football strategy and the overall game plan for each upcoming game in Ohio. A majority of the games, both pre-season and the regular season, are played in Ohio. The players return to Ohio immediately following all games played outside Ohio. In addition to the foregoing, most of the administrative decisions concerning the players, such as how they are transported, when they meet, where they play, and even what and where they eat, are controlled and coordinated from appellant’s base of operations in Cincinnati.”
“Accordingly, the decision of the Board of Tax Appeals, determining that Ohio is the players’ base of operations, is not unreasonable or unlawful, and is, therefore, affirmed.”