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Report: Steve Ballmer could save $1 billion taxes due to purchase of Clippers

Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer


Why did Steve Ballmer pay $2 billionnearly double Bank of America’s valuation – for the Clippers?

Because he loves basketball?

To boost his profile?

Because he wanted a platform to act like a maniac?

To undermine Apple one customer at a time?

Those probably all contributed, but here’s one more – and it’s a big one. $1 billion big.

Arash Massoudi and Alan Livsey of the Financial Times (hat tip: Dan Devine of Ball Don’t Lie):

An FT analysis of US tax laws shows that Mr Ballmer could claim about half of the purchase price in current terms over the next 15 years against his taxable income. The credits can be claimed under a little-known feature of the tax code covering so-called active owners of sports franchises.

The exemption for sports teams was brought into law about a decade ago to resolve concerns over how media rights were accounted for, tax experts said. But they also create a powerful incentive for wealthy individuals to indulge in projects they are passionate about, in effect subsidised by the US government.

Under an exception in US law, buyers of sports franchises can use an accounting treatment known as goodwill against their other taxable income. This feature is commonly used by tax specialists to structure deals for sports teams. Goodwill is the difference between the purchase price of an asset and the actual cash and other fixed assets belonging to the team.

In this case, Mr Ballmer can spread the goodwill over 15 years and reduce his tax liability on his other income by a certain amount for each of those years.

Using a conservative model that assumes Mr Ballmer could account for $1.5bn in goodwill and a re-investment rate of 7 per cent, the potential tax credits equate to about $1bn in current terms.

Because nobody deserves a tax break like billionaire owners of sports teams.