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Pittsburgh’s Jock Tax is Under Attack

Non-resident NHL players face five times the jock tax in Pittsburgh as compared to their resident counterparts

This past November, the Players’ Associations from the NFL, NBA and NHL filed a lawsuit against the City of Pittsburgh claiming that the City’s Non-Resident Sports Facility Usage Fee is actually a tax. The lawsuit argues the “tax” unfairly proportions income and taxes non-resident athletes at a higher rate than those athletes who live in Pittsburgh.

The lawsuit marks the third major challenge against a jock tax over the past several years and if history is any indication, there is precedent to the Association’s position.  In April of 2014 Tennessee voted to eliminate their special tax for professional athletes, while just thirteen months later Ohio’s Supreme Court ruled that the City of Cleveland’s apportionment formula was unconstitutional.

What is at Issue?

Although the Non-Resident Sports Facility Usage Fee was originally implemented in 2005, two major changes were made by the City in 2017 that brought this issue to light.  First the onus of reporting this fee has shifted from only the team, to a shared responsibility between the team and the player, with the player now being held accountable for the tax if unpaid.  Second, the City changed the apportionment of income to be taxed from a duty day formula to a game day allocation formula.

The lawsuit claims the “tax” is unconstitutional at both the State and Federal level and focuses on three arguments to support this claim:

  1. Although it is labeled as a facility usage fee, it is in fact a tax which is based on income.

  2. Non-resident athletes are taxed at a higher rate (3%) than resident athletes of Pittsburgh (1%)

  3. The City’s use of game day allocation to determine the tax does not accurately apportion the amount of income earned in the City

How Much Does this Tax Generate in Revenue?

Under the City of Pittsburgh’s 2018 operating budget it was projected that the Facility Usage Tax would generate $5.6 million in tax revenue in 2018 and $5.7 million in 2019 with a projected growth rate of 2% moving forward.

In reviewing the NHL’s 2019-20 schedule, the tax is projected to generate $1.15 million from players who play on teams visiting the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As the Players’ Association’s lawsuit addresses, this amount of tax collected is in excess of the City’s State and Federal constitutional rights.  The change in the allocation of wages in 2017 has helped the City increase its revenue significantly.

By applying the game day apportionment factor used in 2017, the City increases their revenue by over $438,343 in the taxing of NHL players alone.  When taking into consideration that non-resident athletes pay 3% as opposed to other non-residents, this also adds $473,761 in tax revenue.  In taking the allocation and percentage into consideration, the result is $912,104 in additional tax revenue from NHL non-resident players, which translates into players paying 4.85 times more in tax to the City.

What Needs to be Done Next?

If it is determined that an individual played any games in the city of Pittsburgh, they would need to check with their team to see if the team paid the “tax” on their players’ behalf.  If the team did not pay it on their players’ behalf, it is likely the “tax” was deducted from their player’s paycheck.

If the tax was deducted from your paycheck, you should claim a refund for the difference in tax paid.  In order to do this, a petition would need to be filed along with your W-2 statement, a year-end pay stub, and a letter from the team with all or any of the three indicating the amount of Facility Usage Fee paid to Pittsburgh.


Over the past several years jock taxes in Tennessee and Cleveland have faced challenges and lost.  This past November, Pittsburgh’s jock tax became the latest tax to face scrutiny as the Players’ Associations from three professional leagues filed a lawsuit stating the taxes constitutionality.  At the heart of the Players’ Associations argument is the apportionment of income into the City and the higher rate applied to non-residents as opposed to residents.

AFP Consulting has already taken the necessary steps for our clients to obtain any potential refund they are entitled.  If you believe you are impacted by this lawsuit and would like additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact our office to discuss your options.


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