Super Bowl LVI will be played this Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. The stakes for the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals include legacy, fame and . . . $75,000, pretax.
Each player on the winning team will be awarded $150,000, while each on the losing team will get half of that. Yet when considering income taxes, some Bengals players will take home less if they lose the game than if they played in the Pro Bowl—an exhibition that many players don’t take seriously.
During the regular season, players earn different rates of pay based on their contracts. Veteran stars could earn 20 times what a rookie backup earns.
In the playoffs? Pay shifts from depending on individual player contracts to an arrangement more akin to a union scale. Players on the same team receive identical pay, and the dollar amount only depends on whether their team wins or loses. This system is captured in Article 37 of the CBA. To be clear, players may have Super Bowl bonuses in their contracts. Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham, for example, has a $500,000 incentive that he will receive if the Rams win.
We spoke with NFL salary cap and contracts expert Joel Corry to help sort out the impacts on players.
Everyone getting the same pay emphasizes the “no ‘I’ in team” focus of the postseason. It also leads to unusual wage outcomes—particularly when a game is played in California, which has the highest state income tax rate in the country. Some of the Rams players who are California residents, in fact, will pay over 50% in federal and California taxes. Bengals players pay California income tax based on the duty days spent in California. This begins when they land today in California to prepare for the Super Bowl.
Take Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who finished fifth in the NFL in sacks during the regular season. His 2022 income is $11.19 million. If the Bengals win, Hendrickson, like each of his teammates, would receive $150,000. He would then owe $48,000 in taxes to the state of California. If the Bengals lose, Hendrickson will owe $47,700, meaning he would net only $27,300 for playing in the Super Bowl. Keep in mind, we are only focused on taxes to California. If federal income taxes are also included, Hendrickson would owe the IRS $27,750—meaning he’d lose $450 by playing in a lost Super Bowl.
To put these figures in perspective, AFC players were awarded $80,000 for winning the Pro Bowl game while NFC players got $40,000. The game was played in Las Vegas, Nevada, which has no state income tax (players will still pay taxes in their resident state provided it has a state income tax). Bengals and Rams players who earned Pro Bowl invites were paid $60,000, the midway point, because they couldn’t attend due to Super Bowl commitments.
The Super Bowl is the most watched broadcast each year in the U.S., far eclipsing other sports programming and network shows. Last year, Super Bowl LV television ratings dwarfed those of the No. 2 and No. 3 most watched broadcasts, the NFC and AFC Championship games, respectively. Thirty-second advertisements for the Super Bowl have cost as much as $7 million. Despite the immense commercial value of the game to the NFL, Hendrickson, a star, will net $27,300 if his team loses.
Had the Bengals arrived last Sunday, as is custom for teams in the Super Bowl, Hendrickson would have stood to lose $12,400, post-tax, if the Bengals lose Super Bowl LVI. That is because he would have been in California two additional days.
Other Bengals players have fewer pre- and post-tax dollars on the line. Take Joe Burrow. Still only in his second season, the Bengals star QB is on a rookie contract. His compensation for 2022 is $4.17 million. If the Bengals win the Super Bowl, Burrow will receive $150,000 and owe $17,800 in taxes to California. A loss would bring Burrow $75,000 and a $17,400 tax bill to the Golden State.
To be sure, there are other ways players “gain” through appearing in the Super Bowl. Win or lose, it can boost name recognition and help with endorsement opportunities. But taking home less money playing in the Super Bowl than playing in the Pro Bowl is not what many would expect.
(This story was updated in the seventh and eighth paragraphs to include reference to additional taxes owed to the IRS.)