The Chicago Bears last week filed a court appeal challenging a tax bill from Illinois’ Cook County for more than $4 million.
The county believes the team owes $4.1 million in back amusement taxes dating back to 2007; with interest, the bill swells to about $5.5 million. According to the team, the issue is over what it believes should — and should not — be taxed.
In the appeal lawsuit, team officials state that the Bears have dutifully paid amusement taxes on ticket sales, which they believe are the only thing Cook County can assess the tax on.
However, county officials convinced state administrative law judge Denis Guest last month that the team should also pay amusement taxes on the various amenities afforded fans who sit in premium seats and luxury boxes because those amenities are included in the price of those tickets. Those amenities include parking and concessions fare.
In Guest’s ruling, he wrote that the county argued that the term “amusement” should refer to “game day experience,” a phrase the Bears used in their promotional materials for three levels of tickets. Regular tickets, “club” tickets and “executive suite” tickets all listed “game day experience” as part of the ticket. But according to Guest, the regular tickets had a single admission fee, while the club and executive tickets had two fees.
“The club ticket patron was charged two fees, the first fee was equal to the most expensive fee paid by a regular ticket patron, and the second fee was for the added value of the ‘game day experience’ (club privilege fee),” Guest wrote, adding that executive tickets had a similar fee structure.
The Bears argue that the judge found the amusement tax ordinance to be ambiguous in parts, but the team said it states that the tax applies to “the privilege to enter, to witness, or to view [a football game].” So, the team believes the admission price is what should be taxed.
In the appeal, the Bears state that the judge’s ruling unfairly used the alleged ambiguous nature of the statute against the team, and therefore incorrectly decided in favor of the county.
“The [judge] incorrectly defined ‘Amusement’ as a ‘game day experience.’ The ordinance already defines ‘Amusement’ as an ‘exhibition, performance, presentation or show for entertainment purposes, including, but not limited to…athletic contest, sport, game or similar exhibition, such as…football,'” the appeal states. “Accordingly, the ‘Amusement’ is the Bears football game, not club privileges or suite amenities. The privilege to enter the club or have access to suite amenities is not subject to an amusement tax.”
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