How much do NFL refs earn?

National Football League game officials can be your favorite person or your worst enemy, depending on the calls they make and how they affect your team. However you feel about their performance, you may be wondering how much do NFL umpires earn?

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They may not have the same rigorous workout routine as Tom Brady, but they don’t have an easy job. NFL referees must be physically fit, understand the rules, and make accurate decisions quickly. NFL referees require at least 10 years of on-duty experience, with at least five of those years at the varsity collegiate level (with exceptions made for former NFL players and coaches). They also often have to travel to competitions.   Due to the televised nature of the sport, some NFL referees even achieve a bit of celebrity status and work out sponsorship deals.   And even if you might disagree with a call or don’t like the outcome   , the NFL website reports   that their officials call correctly almost 99% of the time, with an impressive average of 154 calls per game – and that’s a lot of money worth.

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There isn’t much transparency and public knowledge about exactly how much NFL officials earn, but here’s what we know about NFL referee salary. While NFL officials include the roles of umpires, umpires, down judges, line judges, field judges, side judges, and back judges, we’ll focus on umpires below.  

How Much Do NFL Referees Make Per Game? 

    As of 2019, NFL refs earned an average salary of $205,000 per year, with a maximum annual salary of $270,000. There is no public information on the breakdown of the numbers, but we know that it consists of base salary plus bonuses. Broken down over the 17-week regular season with one game per week, they can get as much as $12,000 per game.   The $205,000 number is for the regular season only. NFL umpires get bigger bonus checks for working postseason games, and those who officiate the Super Bowl can earn an additional bonus of $30,000-50,000.   However, it is a misconception that referees only work on match days. To stay fit and sharp, referees practice throughout the week, regularly review footage and prepare for matches. The NFL hosts clinics each year to keep refs abreast of any rule changes and to test their knowledge and physical fitness, and refs work on training camps and preseason games.   NFL umpires are all hired as part-time employees on annual contracts, meaning they receive no benefits such as vacation time or health insurance and can leave the league after each season. Since they don’t have to work from the end of the season through May, holidays may be less important to them. The NFL also contributes to 401,000 refs retirement plans (the NFL offered retirement plans until recently).  

Do NFL Referees Pay Their Own Travel Expenses?

  Since umpires must spend a lot of time traveling to games during the NFL season, they do receive an allowance to cover their travel expenses, but the amount of the allowance is not publicly available. Although the NFL covers their travel expenses, umpires usually have to make their own travel arrangements and do not travel with the NFL players. Referees usually arrive at their destination the day before the match.  

Do NFL refs have day jobs?

Many refs have day jobs to supplement their income, as serving in the NFL is part-time. Mike Carey was a famous entrepreneur, inventor, and owner of a skiwear company, besides being a ref. As an NFL official, Walt Coleman was also a dairy farmer, and Ed Hochuli and Clete Blakeman were also lawyers. The NFL is the only professional sports league to hire its umpires as part-time employees.   There is a lot of controversy surrounding this, and many have advocated for the NFL to make umpires a full-time job to improve performance and avoid churn in the off-season. As mentioned above, when not officiating football games, some umpires spend as much as 35 hours a week studying, training, and preparing for their next NFL game.   For the 2017–2018 season, the NFL hired as many as 24 officials (about 20% of its roster) as full-time employees, temporarily increasing the pay scale. However, this came to an end during negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association, so all officials are still paid as part-time employees.  

Who is the highest paid NFL referee?

NFL referees who have the most experience make the most money. In the 2020–2021 season, four umpires earned $250,000 per year, including Brad Allen, Walt Anderson, Allen Baynes, and Craig Wrolstad. Two umpires earned $250,000: Barry Anderson and Steve Woods. Before retiring in 2018, Walt Coleman and Ed Hochuli were the most experienced and highest paid NFL referees. They were the longest serving NFL umpires with 28 and 27 years of experience respectively. By the end of their careers, they each received more than $3,000 per game.  

Sarah Thomas will make history in 2021

Sarah Thomas, who became the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl game in 2021  , is the highest-paid female umpire, also earning nearly $250,000, though there are currently only five female umpires in the league.  

How do NFL referee salaries compare to other professional sports?

Even though the NFL is an immensely popular, multibillion-dollar industry, NFL umpires tend to earn less than other umpires. Much of this is due to the part-time nature of the gig and the league’s apparent reluctance to pay their officials higher salaries. While salaries for NFL referees continue to rise, they are not comparable to other sports. The NFL also has the largest pay gap between players and officials.   NHL umpires average $275,000 per year, MLB umpires average $300,000 per year, and NBA umpires average $375,000 per year. With that income for each league, there is a potential to earn up to $500,000 or more in bonuses.  

Conclusion on How Much NFL Credentials Earn

As you can see, NFL refs earn a comfortable salary even though they work part time. Obviously NFL players earn more than umpires, but being an umpire in the NFL isn’t a bad deal. Refereeing in the NFL is hard, but officiating games can lead a comfortable life.