This paper derives equivalent gross salary for Major League Baseball free agents weighing offers from teams based in states with different income tax rates. After discussing tax law applicable to professional sports teams’ players, including “jock taxes” and the interrelationship of state and federal taxes, this paper builds several models to determine equivalent salary. A base-case derivation, oversimplified by ignoring nonsalary income and Medicare tax, demonstrates that salary adjustment from a more tax expensive state’s team requires solely a state (but not federal) tax gross-up. Subsequent derivations, introducing nonsalary income and Medicare tax, demonstrate full Medicare but small federal tax gross-ups are also required. This paper applies the model to equalize salary offers from two teams in different states in a highly stylized example approximating the 2010 free agency of pitcher Cliff Lee. Aspects of the models may also be used to inform other sports’ players of their after-tax income if salary caps limit the ability to receive adequately grossed-up salaries.
Veliotis is with Dept. of Accounting and Taxation, Fordham University, New York, NY.