What is the Average Salary of an NFL Referee?

When tuning into an NFL game, much attention is often focused on the players, the coaches, and sometimes even the fans. But there’s another crucial element to each game: the referees. Ensuring fairness, accuracy, and safety, NFL referees play a pivotal role in every matchup. But have you ever wondered how much these on-field regulators earn for their role in the league? This article dives deep into the average salary of an NFL referee, factors affecting their pay, and comparisons with other sports.

1. Overview of an NFL Referee’s Role

NFL referees are the silent guardians of the game. They interpret and enforce league rules, ensuring that each game runs smoothly and fairly. Their responsibilities include judging player actions to decide on penalties, consulting with other officials on decisions, and even using technology for play reviews. Given the high stakes of many NFL games, the pressure on referees to make accurate calls is immense.

2. Factors Determining Referee Salaries

Several factors determine an NFL referee’s salary:


Like many professions, NFL refereeing pays based on experience. A rookie referee will earn significantly less than one who’s been officiating games for over a decade.

Game Importance:

Regular season games have standard pay rates, but playoff games, Super Bowls, and other high-stakes matchups may come with increased compensation due to the heightened pressure and visibility of these contests.


Not all officials on the field are ‘referees.’ An NFL officiating crew consists of various roles including the head referee, umpire, down judge, line judge, field judge, side judge, and back judge. Each position has its salary scale.

3. Average Salary of NFL Referees

As of my last training data in 2021, the average salary for an NFL referee hovers around $205,000 per year, but this figure can vary. Rookie referees, or those with less experience, may start at salaries around $50,000. However, seasoned officials with more than a decade of experience can command salaries upwards of $250,000. The head referees, given their leadership role on the field, tend to be on the higher end of this pay scale.

For special games, such as the Super Bowl, referees can earn additional bonuses. A Super Bowl referee, for example, might take home an extra $30,000 or more just for that game.

4. How NFL Referee Salaries Compare to Other Leagues

When comparing to other major sports in the U.S.:


NBA referees have a salary range that is somewhat comparable to their counterparts in the NFL. Entry-level NBA referees can earn around $150,000 annually, while senior officials can earn $550,000 or more.


Major League Baseball umpires start at a salary of approximately $120,000 and can earn up to $350,000 for those with more experience.


NHL referees earn between $165,000 and $360,000 annually, depending on experience and responsibilities.

When you compare these figures, NFL referees are competitively compensated, especially given the fewer number of games in an NFL season compared to the NBA, MLB, or NHL.

5. Other Benefits and Considerations

While the salary figures are a significant part of compensation, NFL referees also receive other benefits. These can include:

Pension Plans:

The NFL offers benefits plans for its refs, guaranteeing monetary security post-retirement.

Travel and Per Diem:

Refs get paid for movement costs and a day-to-day allowance for food and other necessities when out and about.

Training and Development:

The NFL invests in the training and development of its officials, which includes workshops, training camps, and access to state-of-the-art review technologies.

However, it’s pivotal to take note that most NFL refs don’t do this as an everyday job. Many have different callings during the week and direct games as a beneficial occupation. The requests of the gig, incorporating remaining in a top state of being and staying aware of rule changes, actually intend that while the compensation is liberal, it’s truly hard-earned.

Read More: How to Become an NFL Referee

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