tax news — July 18, 2011

Potentially Costly Catch by Yankees Fan

by Michael Jenkins

fan and baseball game Let's set the stage: you and your father are spending some quality time together at the ballpark on a Friday afternoon, hoping to see your home team, the New York Yankees, pull off a win against the Tampa Bay Rays. The sun is shining brightly, the vendors are slinging brats and brew, and the Yankees fans are ramped up for today's big game. And it is a big game, because as any good Yankees fan knows, shortstop Derek Jeter has 2,999 hits under his career belt, and today might just make history by joining the 3,000 hits club. Only 27 other players have reached this magic number, all of them giants, like Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron.

Fast-forward to the third inning. Jeter is up to bat and digs in at home. Pitcher David Price looks for the sign from catcher John Jaso. Price serves up Jeter a delicious, inside pitch on a silver platter, which Jeter takes apart with a blast from the bat that looks like it will send the ball deep into left field. Time stands still. You, your father and thousands of other baseball fans sweating in the Yankees stadium rise to your feet, jaws dropped, waiting to see where this drive is going to land. In an instant, you see your father reaching into the air at an attempt to catch the homerun, Jeter's 3,000th hit. He misses, but the ball rolls right in front of you. You flash back to your college football training and dive on the ball, then find yourself at the bottom of a stack of fans who are all reaching for the golden ball. Almost immediately, you are snagged up by stadium security and whisked away to the Yankees manager's office for an interview. The rest is baseball history …

This is how one lucky Yankees fan, Christian Lopez, spent a day at the park with his father on July 9, making him part of MLB history.

Little did Lopez know at the time, but he may have just made a costly catch, potentially as much as an estimated $14,000 in tax liability, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

In the manager's office, Lopez gave the ball to Jeter, feeling that he was the ball's true owner. In return, the Yankees gave Lopez four Champions Suite season tickets for the team's remaining home games, and any postseason games, along with three bats, three balls and two jerseys. Each item was signed by Mr. 3,000 himself, Derek Jeter. In addition, the team gave Lopez four front-row Legends seats, which sell for up to $1,358.90 each.

The New York Times estimated the value of these gifts as:

The tickets to the 32 remaining home games (after Sunday) have a combined face value of $44,800 to $73,600, according to the team's Web site. The tickets could be worth a lot more if the Yankees play deep into October. Steven Bandini, a tax partner at the accounting firm Zapken & Loeb, said that if the items were valued modestly at $50,000, they would probably carry a tax burden of about $14,000.

With this shower of gifts from the Yankees, one of life's rules comes into play - nothing is free. As Paul Caron, tax professor at the University of Cincinnati law school, put it, "pretty clearly he's going to have to report as income the value of all the stuff he got for the ball."

Others are speculating that the IRS may treat this as a gift, while Lopez said if he has to pay taxes, he hopes he can borrow from his parents rather than sell his memorabilia.

We shall see if the IRS steps up to the plate to help this fan of America's favorite pastime.

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