Flyers' visit to Nashville expected to be taxing

Posted: December 02, 2013

NASHVILLE IS a hidden gem among stops on the NHL tour, with inviting country-music sounds and neon-soaked spirits spilling out of the honky-tonks on Lower Broadway next to Bridgestone Arena.

Inside, the Predators skate in front of one of the most unusual - and passionate - fan bases in hockey, which the Flyers will get a taste of tonight in their third trip to the Music City since 2005.

For three seasons after July 1, 2009, though, Nashville became the city NHL players loathed to visit. That's because Tennessee imposed a stiff "professional privilege tax" - also known as a "jock tax" - to athletes visiting its two major cities, Nashville and Memphis.

So-called jock taxes are nothing new. California (9.3 percent) was the first to institute such a tax. New York (6.85 percent) and New Jersey (6.37 percent) followed. Even in Philadelphia, visiting players are hit with a 3.499 percent professional privilege tax, on top of the 2.8 percent the state pursues.

But Tennessee took it one step further: a flat tax of $2,500 per game in Nashville, per player, regardless of salary earned, with a maximum of $7,500 paid per season. That includes Predators players.

The tax is still on the books, but riled the players so much that they fought to have a reimbursement from the NHL included in last year's collective bargaining agreement forged after the 113-day work lockout.

In early November, the NHL Players' Association said it was prepared to sue Tennessee, seeking reimbursement for all taxes paid from 2009 through 2012. For Predators players - and divisional or playoff opponents who make frequent trips - that could be upward of $30,000. In a joint effort with the NHL, the NHLPA is lobbying Tennessee state legislators to repeal the tax.

Tennessee does not impose individual state income tax. Also, NFL players facing the Titans in Nashville and NASCAR drivers at Bristol Motor Speedway are exempt from the tax.

Instead, the tax is levied against NHL players in Nashville and NBA players in Memphis, where the money goes to repay loans handed out for the building of their arenas. The total take between both sports is estimated at $4.5 million per year.

The tax rankles NHL and NBA players because, for some players, it means playing that game for free, or even paying to play in some cases. The NBA estimates that 75 players have lost money or earned nothing because of the tax. It is imposed for any player on the active roster, whether he is scratched from the game or not.

Scott Hartnell spent the first six seasons of his career in Nashville, though the tax wasn't imposed until after he was traded to the Flyers in 2007. He was reluctant to talk about the tax, because of the pending litigation.

"It's still in court, so I really don't know what to say," Hartnell said. When asked whether the tax bothered players, Hartnell said, "Obviously."

Most of the general population isn't reaching for the tissues because millionaire athletes are forced to open their wallets. Kimmo Timonen, who also used to play in Nashville, is the Flyers' highest-paid player, at $6 million this season.

So, Timonen will be hit with $2,500 in Nashville from the $30,769 he earns today alone. NHL paychecks are divided into a 195-day season. For some of Timonen's teammates, the tax is nearing 100 percent.

At $600,000 annually, Adam Hall is the Flyers' lowest-paid player. He will gross $3,076.92 today. Subtracting $2,500 would leave him with a $576.92 in pay - and he still needs to pay his other regularly scheduled taxes. Players at the previous league minimum of $525,000 were teetering on the edge of any gain at all.

Whereas, if Hall played in Los Angeles today with California's 9.3 percent tax, he would be required to pay $286.15, instead of $2,500. Timonen would pay $2,861. That's a big difference.

Taxes as a whole are pains for professional athletes, who often file income-tax returns in 10-plus states each year. In reality, certain business travelers should pay income taxes in other states and cities when working away from home, but athletes are more heavily pursued, because of their public schedule and high salaries.

But now NHLPA players have secured a reimbursement from the NHL, to make their trips to Tennessee a little less painful.

For Hartnell, though, any trip back to Nashville is positive.

"It won't be as emotional as Vinny [Lecavalier going back to Tampa Bay this week], but there are a lot of memories there," Hartnell said. "It was a great place to start my career. I love the organization, especially the fans there. Hockey was new down there, and they were very passionate. It's always a treat going back there."


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers

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