NFL May Owe Players Over $100 Million After Being Caught in Accounting ‘Fiction’

February 23, 2016, 1:47 PM UTC
Arizona Cardinals v Minnesota Vikings
Photograph by Adam Bettcher—Getty Images

The National Football League seems to have been cooking its books.

An arbitrator has ruled that the league must hand over what the NFL players union says is more than $100 million to the pool of revenue that is shared with players, according to the Wall Street Journal. During an audit, the players association discovered that the NFL had used a phony accounting category to mischaracterize what it estimates to be $120 million in ticket revenue over three years—money that should have been shared with the athletes.

The return of the funds to the pool of revenue that the NFL shares with players means that the salary cap should rise by another $1.5 million per team—bringing the total per team salary cap to around $156 million, ESPN reported. Last year, the cap, which was first introduced to limit wealthy teams’ advantage, was $143.28 million.

The improperly withheld funds were categorized as exempt “waived gate” revenues—a category that the collective bargaining agreement does not list as an exemption from the revenue that must be included in the pool shared with players. “They created an exemption out of a fiction and they got caught,” DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, said to the Journal.

An NFL spokesperson told the Journal it was a “technical accounting issue.”

Under the collective bargaining agreement, a percentage of ticket sales, sponsorship money, and media deals go into the pool shared with players; specific items like premium seating and corporate mega-deals are excluded from revenue-sharing because those funds are often directed toward the mutual benefit of stadium upkeep and renovations.