National Football League (NFL) Referee Salary
The average salary for NFL Referees is $205,000 as of the 2019 season. This number has substantially increased over time, as just the season before the average salary was only $149,000. Referees receive a flat payment and then a payment per game officiated.
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Though the players are the stars of games on NFL Sunday, few individuals have as big an impact on the game as NFL referees. NFL games have seven officials on the field, including the referee, umpire, line judge, back umpire, down judge, side judge, and back judge. Together they call penalties and maintain order and the rules of the game.
But what is the NFL referee salary and are they full-time employees? We will look at the individuals responsible for upholding the law in the game of football and how much they make.
How Much Do NFL Referees Make?
Football fans know that salaries across the league have been on the rise. In 1980, wide receiver Lam Jones became the first player to ever receive a contract worth over a million dollars annually. In the modern NFL, Aaron Rodgers makes over $50 million in salary, and the minimum salary sets at over $650,000.
Likewise, the contracts for NFL referees have increased with the increased revenue the league sees. The NFL pays its officials more based on their seniority and role on the field. A crew chief with years of experience stands to make more than a rookie side judge. Additionally, NFL referees have pension plans on top of their salary.
So what is the average NFL referee salary? Unlike player contracts, we do not officially know the salary of each NFL official. Our best window into the contracts of referees is the expired NFL CBA or collective bargaining agreement. Because the league renewed the CBA recently, we have data from 2019 to look at.
NFL officials are not full-time employees like officials in other major sports. Many have other jobs during the offseason. In addition to officiating games, referees make appearances at league functions, including workshops where they improve their craft and discuss points of emphasis for officiating in the upcoming season.
The NFL pays officials additional money if selected to work playoff games. The bonus pay typically amounts to double their standard per-game salary.
Surprisingly, the NFL pays officials less than referees in other sports. However, NFL referees work fewer games to compensate. For comparison, NHL officials receive an average salary of $212,500, MLB umpires make $235,000, and NBA referees stand at $375,000.
How Do You Become a Ref?
Becoming a referee at the highest level of football is a similar path to becoming a player in the NFL. You will have to work your way up the ranks by officiating high school and college football games before being considered.
Officials' Responsibilities & Positions
- Down Judge
- Line Judge
- Field Judge
- Side Judge
- Back Judge
There isn’t a set curriculum to becoming an NFL referee. Part of it is experience, and part of it is luck. But the NFL does have some guidelines for those interested in officiating professional football games.
There is no exact requirement for education, but nearly every referee has at least a bachelor’s degree. Getting your degree in a field related to sports is a boon.
As far as experience, the NFL likes its referees to have at least 10 years of officiating experience under their belts before stepping into the world of the pros. Of those 10 years, at least five should be at the college level. The NFL often scouts college games for new talent.
The final requirement is to be in relatively good health. Being an official involves standing and running for an entire game of football, and candidates must be able to handle the rigors of the job. As a result, candidates who were coaches or players are also highly considered for these jobs.
Step-By-Step Guide to Becoming an NFL Referee
While these steps will take some time and can never assure you a job with the NFL, this is a good outline for those hoping to land a job in the pros.
1. Earn a Degree
Get a degree from a university to begin your journey. It is not officially required, but any edge you can get is good in a competitive field like sports officiating.
Universities, schools, and sports governing bodies often offer training programs for fledgling officials. These classes will provide prospective referees with knowledge of the intricate rules of football and how to call a game.
3. Get Registered
Before you can begin working as an official in high school games, you need to register with your state. Most states require you to complete a written exam to receive registration. You will also need to complete the training from step two.
4. Officiate Games
With your training and registration complete, it is time to referee some games. Most refs get their career started at the high school level, typically in the local governing body of your area. If you have the skills to make it to the pros, you’ll likely spend three to five years at the high school level.
If you’ve decided to move on from high school officiating, you can find work at the collegiate level or in one of the many leagues throughout the country. There are semi-pro leagues that require officials and spring football leagues that pop up yearly.
5. Earn Additional Certifications
While not required, earning certifications by completing training courses can help you stand out in the sea of aspiring NFL referees. These classes will teach you additional techniques and deepen your understanding of the game.
6. Grab New York’s Attention
When you’ve fulfilled the NFL’s requirement of working at least 10 years, with five of them being in college, it comes down to catching the attention of the league offices in New York. You need to always be at your best and consistently make the right calls. This applies to regular-season games as much as it does to high profile Bowl Games.
What is the Average Salary?
The average NFL referee salary is $205,000. This figure has increased substantially over the years, and many NFL officials earn well over it. For example, Brad Allen is one of the highest-paid referees in the league. All NFL officials are considered to be part-time employees.
While the average salary might pale in comparison to the larger contracts of the actual football players in today’s NFL, it is significantly higher than the average for officials at all other levels of the game, such as college or semi-pro leagues. Game officials typically only make around $16-20 per hour for upholding the rules of the game.
Do They Earn More at the Super Bowl?
Being selected to officiate postseason games, including the Super Bowl, is a huge honor for every NFL official. The NFL chooses football officials who are the highest rated at their position throughout the regular season based on the league’s metrics. The Super Bowl is perhaps the most difficult game to officiate of the year since the stakes are so high, but the league provides the best team for the job every year.
In addition to the prestige of being chosen to work the big game, the league pays officials a bonus for working Super Bowl Sunday. The bonus clocks in at anywhere between $30,000 and $50,000.
Super Bowl 56 Referees
Super Bowl 56 was played by the Cincinatti Bengals and Los Angeles Rams, with the Rams winning the Super Bowl. The refs working the game included:
- Referee: Ron Torbert
- Umpire: Bryan Neale
- Down Judge: Derick Bowers
- Line Judge: Carl Johnson
- Field Judge: Rick Patterson
- Side Judge: Keith Washington
- Back Judge: Scott Helverson
- Replay Official: Roddy Ames
NFL Referee FAQs
Who is the highest-paid NFL referee?
Brad Allen and Walt Anderson are the highest-paid NFL referees.
How much do Super Bowl Refs get paid?
An average base salary of $205,000 dollars.
How many female referees are employed by the NFL?
Between 2-3 at the moment. Maia Chaka and Sarah Thomas are two female referees in the game today. Sarah was the first female to be hired as a game official for an NFL season and the first to work the Super Bowl.
Is an NFL referee a full time job?
No, NFL referees are considered part-time employees.
Is there a union for NFL referees?
Yes, the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) is the official association for game officials. They work with the NFL to establish collective bargaining agreements between the parties.
Do NFL referees pay for travel expenses?
Yes, but they receive undisclosed compensation for travel expenses.
How much does a NFL Waterboy make?
According to NBC Sports, an NFL Waterboy makes approximately $53,000 per year.
What do refs do during halftime?
Game officials get snacks, drink water, use the restroom, and communicate with one another during halftime. They have extra time during the Super Bowl because the half-time is extended as compared to a regular season game.
How many hours a week do NFL referees work?
As part-time employees, game officials only work between 20-24 hours per week. This is roughly three days on a typical 9-5 elsewhere.
How do NFL refs stay warm?
Despite the consistent uniform that refs must wear, they generally load up on things like facemasks, ear muffs, and that waist pouch that undoubtedly has hand warmers as if they were on a ski lift. This is doubly true for fields such as Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, where harsh winter weather makes everyone wish they were at home.
Do NFL refs have second jobs?
Yes, some officials do have second jobs outside of the NFL season. Some refs, such as Adrian Hill, have a second job as a software engineer.
Do NFL referees have to be lawyers?
No, they do not need to have a legal background.
Do referees have a locker room?
Yes, referees have a locker room to go to.
Are NFL refs allowed to wear gloves?
Yes, NFL officials are allowed to wear gloves.
Conclusion: NFL Referee Salary
Working your way up the ladder to becoming an NFL official is a time-consuming process and many will never make it. But it can be a rewarding experience, and you will be able to uphold the law on the field and keep the game flowing nicely.
Those who choose to embark on this path can expect an average base salary of $205,000. It can be a difficult and thankless job, but the sport is always in need of more quality officials.
References & Sources