How Much Do NFL Referees Make?

Ever wondered how much NFL referees actually make?

How Much Do NFL Referees Make?
Wade McElwain

Written by: Wade McElwain

(Senior Sports Writer)

Fact checked by: Umaima Saeed

(Sports Writer)

Last updated: 2023-11-03

How Much do NFL Refs Make?

NFL referees play a crucial role in ensuring that the game is played fairly and within the rules. They make split-second decisions that can impact the outcome of a game, making their job both challenging and high-pressure.  But have you ever wondered how much NFL referees make for their efforts?  How much do NFL referees actually get paid?  A lot more than you think. 

Base Salary

NFL referees, like players and coaches, receive a base salary. While the exact figures are unknown, the base salary for an NFL referee ranged from $4,000 to $12,000 per game.  This could work out to roughly $205,000 USD per year, although some refs can make way more if they work the playoffs and Super Bowl.  
This range is determined by the referee's experience and tenure in the league. NFL head referees with more years of service earn at the higher end of this range.
The NFL regular season consists of 17 weeks, and each referee officiates multiple games during that time. This means that their base salary can add up to a significant figure during the season.
 Although officially, NFL refs are actually considered ‘part-time employees.’

Bonuses and Perks

In addition to their base salary, NFL referees enjoy several bonuses and perks. For instance, they receive a stipend for travel expenses, which covers the cost of getting to and from the game locations. 
They are also provided with accommodations and meals during their time on the road.
Furthermore, referees receive health insurance benefits and retirement plans. These benefits add to their overall compensation package and ensure their financial security.
Not to mention, they get to watch free NFL games!
Of course, they do have to do a bit of work. 

Playoff and Super Bowl Bonuses

One of the most significant sources of income for NFL referees is officiating playoff games and the Super Bowl. These high-stakes games come with hefty bonuses.
For playoff games, referees receive a bonus that is often based on the round of the playoffs. 
The further they progress, the higher their bonus. Officiating a Super Bowl, the pinnacle of NFL games, comes with a substantial financial reward. 
As of 2022, referees for the Super Bowl received a bonus of around $30,000 to $50,000, depending on their experience.

NFL smile ref 2.jpg

Officiating Crew and Roles

NFL officiating crews consist of seven on-field officials and one alternate. Each position comes with a different level of responsibility and, subsequently, a different pay scale. The referee, who is the head official responsible for making the final decisions on the field, typically earns the highest salary among the crew.
The roles of umpire, line judge, side judge, field judge, back judge, and down judge each have their own responsibilities, and salaries are structured accordingly. The alternate official, who is ready to step in if needed, earns slightly less than the on-field officials.

Collective Bargaining Agreements

The salaries of NFL referees are also influenced by collective bargaining agreements between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA). These agreements outline the terms and conditions of employment, including salary scales, retirement benefits, and other important aspects of compensation.
It's worth noting that these agreements can change over time, so it's essential to consult the most recent information for the most accurate details on NFL referee earnings.

Ref with cash.jpg


With the rise of legal sports gambling, there have become concerns about the referees taking payoffs to satisfy betting cartels.  Looking at some of the 2023 controversial calls, it becomes obvious that there have been some questionable calls made by the refs.
Critics have called for refs to be unionised as a way of ensuring fair pay and fair play.
Some have gone even further to call for AI or robot refs to add some fairness to the game. 
So on average, a NFL ref can make over $200,000 US per year or more. The income of an NFL ref is also influenced by their experience, the specific role they play on the officiating crew, and the games they officiate, such as playoff matches and the Super Bowl.
So, do NFL refs make more money than you thought?

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Wade McElwain


Wade McElwain

Wade McElwain

Wade McElwain is our Mr. NFL, a bona fide North American sports nut who knows about NBA, NHL, MLB, PGA plus MMA boxing and more. Originally from Canada, Wade is also an international award-winning stand-up comedian; host of numerous TV game shows; and a TV producer & writer. He also runs NFL in London-the largest NFL fan group in Europe, and has hosted NFL events at Wembley and around the world. Yes, he lives alone and does nothing but watch sports.

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