They drew up a gadget play that was supposed to score big. But the courts threw a flag and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were foiled.
An appellate court recently handed down a decision rejecting the Florida football franchise's claim that it had been negatively impacted by the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
At issue was a bid the Bucs' front office made to be paid out nearly $20 million in compensation from the settlement program put in place by BP Oil for those impacted by the spill. The court decided the team had not sufficiently made the case it had been negatively impacted, declaring instead that it was relying on accounting chicanery to try to make its ludicrous claim stick.
They had to meet what was called a “causation test.” Documentation had to be made that showed an economic downturn during the months following the 2010 disaster, and then more documentation illustrating a recovery over the same time frame one year later. This was called a “V-Test,” because, if graphed, the plunge would resemble the letter “V” on a chart, displaying the economic impact.
The Buccaneers presented documents covering the months of May-June 2010. Which, of course, would bring a whistle on the play, because it is a period during which no football is being played. What the team did concerned how it chose to show its income on those two years from its share of NFL Ventures. That is the name given to the league’s revenue-sharing program. The Buccaneers elected to record acceptance of its Ventures share at different dates on the corresponding years. In 2010 the income was recorded in January, and again in August.
In the ensuing year, the team recorded the Ventures revenue as having been received in the April-June quarter. This would of course show the income disparity between the two years, and seemingly qualify the team for the compensation.
Enter auditors from the payout program who challenged this ledger technique. The team stated it had been directed to make the entry on those 2011 dates as a result of a threat of a labor dispute with players.
While questionable, even had this entry been proved valid, there were two issues with the accounting. First the team did not have paperwork that supported this claim of a league mandated bookkeeping entry. Secondly, even if validated, recording this revenue on a differing date due to an impending player lockout in no way can be seen as evidence the team was impacted by the oil spill. The accountants saw the claim as bogus and denied the payout.
The team was inspired to take the matter to court.
The initial judgment did not favor the football franchise. The district court declared the paperwork showed “an unjustified departure from an established accounting practice” -- a professional way of saying, “you were cooking the books.” Unbowed and seemingly unembarrassed, the team took the case to an appeals court, where the lower court's ruling was upheld.
Resorting to such a tactic is questionable enough, but the team’s insistence that it fight for money in court becomes a bad case of optics for the franchise. Trying to game a compensation system to benefit a multi-million-dollar sports franchise is not a good look for an NFL organization.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.