Code Sec. 162 permits a business to deduct its ordinary and necessary expenses for carrying on the business. However, Code Sec. 274 restricts the deduction of entertainment expenses incurred for business by disallowing expenses of entertainment activities and entertainment facilities. Many expenses are totally disallowed; other amounts, if allowed under Code Sec. 274, are limited to 50 percent of the expense.
The income tax regulations define entertainment as any activity of a type generally considered to be entertainment, amusement, or recreation, such as entertaining at night clubs, lounges, theaters, country clubs, golf and athletic clubs, and sports events, as well as hunting, fishing, vacation and similar trips.
There are special rules for the costs of facilities used to entertain the customer, such as a boat or a country club membership. Dues or fees for any social, athletic or sporting club or organization are treated as items involving facilities.
Expenses are allowed if the expense was either “directly related” to the active conduct of the taxpayer’s trade or business, or “associated with” the conduct of the trade or business. An activity is “associated with” business if the activity directly precedes or follows a substantial and bona fide business discussion.
Entertainment expenses are not directly related to the business if the activity occurred under circumstances with little or no possibility of engaging in the active conduct of the trade or business. These circumstances include an activity where the distractions are substantial, such as a meeting or discussion at a night club, theater, or sporting event. However, taking a customer to a meal at a restaurant or for drinks at a bar can be considered conducive to a business discussion, if there are no substantial distractions to a discussion.
Substantial business discussion
For expenses that are either directly related to or associated with business, the taxpayer must establish that the he or she conducted a substantial and bona fide business discussion with the customer. The IRS has said that there is no specified length for a discussion to be substantial; all facts and circumstances will be considered. The discussion is substantial if the active conduct of the business was the principal character of the combined business and entertainment activity, but it is not necessary that more time be devoted to business than to entertainment.
For an activity that is associated with, the discussion can directly precede or follow the activity. For a discussion to be directly before or after the activity, it generally must be on the same day as the activity. However, facts and circumstances may allow the entertainment and the discussion to be on consecutive days, for example if the customer is from out of town.
The special rules for facilities do not apply to season tickets. Instead, the taxpayer must allocate the cost of the season tickets to each separate entertainment event. The amount deductible is limited to the face value of the ticket. For a “skybox” or other area leased and used exclusively by the taxpayer and guests, the amount deductible is limited to the face value of non-luxury seats for the area covered by the lease.
Under these rules, it appears that the deductible costs of baseball season tickets must be determined separately for each baseball game. Attendance at a baseball game would involve a “distracting” activity that is not conducive to a business discussion, so the cost of the game would not be directly related to the conduct of the trade or business. However, attendance at a game before or after the conduct of a substantial business discussion could qualify as being associated with the business; in these circumstances, the cost of the event would be deductible.
If the taxpayer provided food to the customer at the baseball game, the cost of the food would be deductible as part of the cost of the event. Some “luxury” seats include food provided by the baseball team to the ticket user. It appears that the taxpayer would have to determine the fair market value of the ticket and the food separately, although the costs of food actually provided to the customer may still be deductible.