How to Lead a Fixed Useful Life
Baseball impresario Bill Veeck brought us exploding scoreboards, bat-day promotions, and much more, but probably his most important contribution to the game was an accounting device he introduced in 1959, allowing people to write off the lion's share of the cost of acquiring a baseball franchise. The trick was to treat baseball players as depreciable assets with a fixed useful life. By assigning a high proportion (say, 90%) of a franchise's acquisition price to the value of its players, a purchaser could recoup most of his investment in a few years simply by taking large annual deductions from taxable income for depreciation of the team's most valuable asset. In effect, taxpayers picked up the tab.
When asked if his loophole was fair, Veeck replied, "Look, we play 'The Star-Spangled Banner' before every game. You want us to pay income taxes, too?"
-- Adapted from Baseball and Billions, by Andrew Zimbalist (Basic Books, 1992)* * *