NFL referees can generally do no right in the eyes of fans. Bad calls, missed calls, and not knowing the rule book front to back will always offend even the most casual NFL viewers. So how much do NFL referees make for their imperfect performances on 17 Sundays throughout the year?
Back in 2012, you may remember the NFL referee lockout. The NFL and the union representing the referees could not agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, so the referees said they would not officiate the games. After public outcry resulting from multiple bad calls by scab refs, the NFL gave in to the referees demands. The result was a nice payday for the refs.
NFL Referee Average Salary
According to Indeed, the average salary of an NFL referee is currently $205,000. In 2013, the average salary of an NFL referee was $173,000 according to Money.com. The refs also receive 401(k) benefits with a contribution limit of $18,000, which is matched by the NFL.
In 2014, CBS reported that the 121 NFL referees made between $4,000 and $10,000 per game, which would amount to between $84,000 and $210,000 if the four preseason games are included. NFL refs that officiate playoff games or a Super Bowl would make substantially more money during those games.
In 2001, for example, a referee working the Super Bowl was paid $11,900 for officiating the game. At the time, players on the winning team received a $36,000 bonus. In 2019, that number had increased to $118,000. If this 3.2-fold increase also applied to refs, they would be making about $38,000 for working the Super Bowl.
To hold referees accountable, the NFL has an officiating department that evaluates referees after each game. The NFL has reported that there are 155 plays on average in each game. The organization claims that refs get 95 to 97 percent of these calls correct.
How Much Do Other Refs Make?
Most NFL referees also have full-time jobs. Potentially earning $250,000+ for a part-time job is a good gig, if you can get it.
Working one day a week for a third of the year and pulling in this type of salary is a rarity in the world of umpires and referees. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the 2019 median pay of umpires, referees, and other sports officials at $28,550 per year. In 2018, there were 22,000 people working these jobs in the United States.
Of course, those statistics include referees from all levels of competitions. But when comparing the salaries of NFL referees to other major professional sports, the NFL refs come out comfortably ahead of their peers.
How Much Do College Football Referees Make?
Many NFL referees get their opportunity to move up by excelling at the college level. While you may assume that college refs make significantly less than NFL refs, you would be both right and wrong. The spread of salaries in the college game is massive, ranging from as little as $11,753 to $314,406 per year according to Comparably. The median salary of college refs is $57,014 and the distribution of 57 percent of the refs in the middle is between $57,0115 and $142,490. Those in the top 86 percentile make $314,406 according to the site. Comparably also lists the U.S. average of college football referees at a salary of $61,498.
College football, like the NFL, is a multi-billion dollar industry that not only can afford to pay its referees high salaries, but it must do so to protect the integrity of a game that millions watch each Saturday in the fall. One major difference between college refs and NFL refs, though, is that many college referees must pay for their own travel expenses, while NFL refs do not.
How Much Do MLB Umpires Make?
There are 70 Major League umpires in total, which work in 17 different crews. According to Career Trend, a rookie umpire in Major League Baseball makes $150,000. A senior umpire makes $450,000. One major difference between NFL umpires and MLB umpires is that a Major League Baseball season has 162 games, while an NFL season has 21 weeks of games.
How Much Do NHL Referees Make?
In the NHL, there are two different types of officials: referees and linesmen. According to estimates, an NHL linesman can make between $110,000 and $235,000 per year. An NHL referee can make between $165,000 and $360,000. NHL teams play 82 games per season.
How Much Do NBA Referees Make?
Estimates of NBA referee salaries go from $150,000 for rookie refs up to $550,000 for senior officials. NBA teams play 82 games per season.
How Much Do MLS Officials Make?
The MLS is a major professional sport in the U.S., but its popularity is significantly lower than the other major sports. MLS referee salaries are therefore much lower. Professional referees make $850 per match, which equates to an annual salary of $55,000.