The Miami Dolphins are attempting to score what would be an incredibly fast political touchdown: a one-month campaign to convince Miami-Dade County voters to sign off on a stadium construction deal.
After nearly around the clock negotiations at the stadium and county hall, fueled by frequent runs for Cuban cafecito, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez hammered out a deal with the Dolphins.
During the county meeting on April 10, 2013, when commissioners signed off on the referendum, Commissioner Sally Heyman asked if the stadium would continue to pay property taxes. During the negotiations, the Dolphins proposed turning over the stadium ownership to the county. The team had also appealed their property taxes two years in a row but then dropped the appeals.
"Commissioner, as far as I know the Miami Dolphins are the only professional team in the state of Florida that actually pays property taxes. And, as far as I know, the Dolphins are the only NFL team in the entire nation that pays property taxes. This does not change."
At PolitiFact Florida, our ears perk up when we hear that something is the "only" one in the country. Are the Miami Dolphins the only NFL team to pay property taxes?
For the $350 million stadium deal to go forward, the tax-weary Legislature must sign off on some of the financing before the session ends May 3, and then Miami-Dade voters must approve it in a May 14 referendum. By May 22, the NFL will decide whether to award the 50th Super Bowl in 2016 to Miami or San Francisco.
Focusing on property taxes is just one piece of the finances of a stadium. Nearly all NFL stadiums have received public financing of some sort.
"No property taxes on stadiums is a part of the negotiation between the team and the relevant government entities – the trade-off very likely is a bigger subsidy coupled with property taxes, or smaller subsidies and property tax exemptions," Robert Baade, a business of sports professor at Lake Forest, told PolitiFact Florida in an email.
Dolphins property taxes
In making his statement, Gimenez was repeating something he heard from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross during negotiation meetings, County spokeswoman Suzy Trutie told PolitiFact Florida.
"We’re the only team in the country that doesn’t have any public dollars with our stadium. We pay full real estate taxes. We’re the only team in Florida and the only team in the NFL that pays full real estate taxes," Ross was quoted in the Miami Herald in March. "We’re not looking to be relieved of that ... ."
Dolphins spokesman Eric Jotkoff said Ross’ statement refers to the land and the stadium, although the land is owned by the county.
Trutie said that the $3 million in real estate taxes is for "the building and the land, even though the county owns the land."
The Dolphins tax bill for the stadium itself was about $3.6 million in 2012 -- that includes about $3 million in real estate taxes and the rest was for tangible personal property and local business taxes, Miami-Dade tax records show. The tax bill for the parking lots is about $368,000.
Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers pay stadium property taxes
We contacted multiple NFL teams and found two in addition to the Dolphins that pay property taxes on their stadiums: the Washington Redskins and the Carolina Panthers. Spokespersons for the teams as well as local government officials confirmed for PolitiFact that the teams pay property taxes on the stadiums.
The Redskins own FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The Redskins paid about $3 million for in 2013 -- most of that is for property taxes and includes a small fee for solid waste collection, according to Prince George’s County. The amount of business personal property taxes for a related stadium entity was $406,230.24.
The Carolina Panthers paid about $1.7 million in property taxes on the Bank of America stadium in Charlotte for 2011, the year of the most recent valuation, according to Eric Anderson, deputy director in the Mecklenburg County assessor’s office.
The Panthers lease the city-owned land for $1 a year. The team paid a tax on the lease, which was about $346,246 for 2011. The team also paid business personal property tax of about $313,800.
The Panthers have had some battles in the past with Mecklenburg County about the taxes. During a revaluation of the property in 2003, the county raised the value.
"The county gave you a huge break on this, if you want to know the truth," Ham Wade, the county's attorney, told the team's appraiser at one point during that battle.
Payments in lieu of taxes
In some cases, stadiums don’t pay property taxes but they do make a payment in lieu of taxes -- and that payment can be substantial. Take for example the town of Foxborough, population 17,000, that gets about $2 million for payment in lieu of taxes from the New England Patriots. That payment is about 40 to 60 percent less than the amount would be if the team paid property taxes, estimated the town’s finance director Randy Scollins.
The payment plan is controversial, but Scollins told PolitiFact "I see the wisdom in it. The theory is that wouldn’t we be so lucky as to have an economic engine in your back yard."
The New York Giants and the New York Jets don’t pay property taxes on their shared MetLife stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (However, the borough is in negotiations and in court about whether the Giants should pay $1.5 million in property taxes on a training facility within the same sports complex as the stadium.)
The city receives a payment in lieu of property taxes -- about $7.2 million through the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. A portion of that comes from the stadium, East Rutherford mayor James Cassella told PolitiFact.
"Technically they don’t pay property taxes, but they do pay money to the municipality," he said.
Gimenez said during a county meeting that the Miami Dolphins "are the only NFL team in the entire nation that pays property taxes."
That’s not accurate: two additional NFL teams pay property taxes on their stadiums. For the most recent year available, the Carolina Panthers paid about $1.7 million while the Washington Redskins paid about $3 million.
Some teams pay some sort of other payment in lieu of property taxes. Technically, those aren’t property taxes, but in the case of the New England Patriots, the $2 million payment to the town of Foxborough isn’t too shabby.
Gimenez exaggerated when he said that the Dolphins are the only NFL team in the country that pays property taxes. We rate this claim False.