Here's how much California stands to make from fan-free MLB games

Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

LOS ANGELES -- On May 11, the day major league owners approved a plan to start the season in early July, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declined to endorse the proposal.

"We'll see where we will be in July," Newsom said that day.

On May 18, Newsom said baseball and other pro sports would be invited to play within California "in that first week or so of June," with no fans allowed, and with the approval of public health officials.

There is a dollar figure that can be attached to the change in plans. In a state with a budget battered by the coronavirus-induced recession, allowing California's five major league teams to stage home games rather than forcing them to play elsewhere would compel baseball players to contribute about $73 million to the state treasury.

Almost all states assess a so-called "jock tax," charging athletes income tax for every day they work in the state. California's 13.3% rate is the highest in the country.

State analysts this month projected a $54-billion deficit, the worst in state history. Newsom "definitely" had to consider allowing games in the state so as to collect the jock tax, said Dan Schnur, communications director for former Gov. Pete Wilson.


"Out-of-state multimillionaire athletes are a pretty easy target," said Schnur, who teaches political strategy at USC. "Before he starts raising taxes on Californians, the jock tax is a much more politically acceptable alternative."

If the 2020 season had been played in full, the state could have generated about $143 million in taxes from baseball players, according to Jeffrey Becker, partner at Winningham, Becker and Co. in Woodland Hills. Becker, who calculated estimates for The Los Angeles Times, said the state would have generated just $28 million had MLB played its proposed 82-game season entirely out of state, with income tax payments limited to players that call California their primary residence.

Becker's revenue estimates could change depending on the number of games played within California, possible postseason games, the number of players on an expanded roster and taxi squad, and any salary reductions and postseason revenue splits agreed upon by players and owners. In all, the difference in estimated jock tax revenue between MLB games out of state and within the state this season accounts to about two-thousandths of the state's current $215-billion budget.

However, that $45 million difference would cover the annual budget for the California Coastal Commission, or for state-owned Exposition Park in Los Angeles, home to the California Science Center and the California African American Museum.


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