Did you know that football is the most popular sport in the United States? According to one survey, more than 112 million Americans watch the games on television. Take the NFL events, for example, they attract millions of viewers across various viewing platforms.
It’s not too surprising, though, considering the fact they’re the biggest professional football league in North America. Founded in 1920, the NFL consists of 32 teams, divided between the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference.
Every year, the NFL season begins with a preseason in August, which is followed by a regular season, which runs from September to January. Generally speaking, each team will play a total of 17 games; seven teams from the NFC and AFC will then advance to the playoffs.
It goes without saying but most NFL players are paid handsomely, with many taking home millions of dollars every year.
But what about the NFL referees? How much money do they make? After all, you can’t have a proper football game without them on the field.
Average Salary for NFL Referee in 2023 – $205,000
The official salaries for NFL referees have not been disclosed to the public. However, we can make some assumptions based on the collective bargaining agreement from 2019. According to the document, officials took home an average of $205,000 that year. They also received a substantial pension plan.
At the end of the day, however, the exact amount depends on a number of factors including the referee’s role and seniority. The NFL also pays its officials a flat fee per game, which can be calculated by multiplying 17 through the year (since each season consists of 17 games). On top of that, many also receive large bonuses for refereeing post-season games. For example, it’s not uncommon for an official to receive double their normal pay.
One thing’s for sure, though- they’re the highest-paid among all the leagues (e.g. MLB, NBA, NHL).
It might seem a lot but it makes sense as the referees have to attend a number of practices and functions beyond games to constantly up their in-season performance.
To put things into perspective, an average referee (outside of the NFL) typically makes about $16.20 per hour, which isn’t that much greater than minimum wage.
The Highest Paid NFL Referees In 2023
Some of the highest-paid officials for the 2022-2023 season include Brad Allen, Michael Banks, Barry Anderson, Allen Baynes, and Sara Thomas.
Brad Allen: Originally from North Carolina, he has been part of the NFL since 2014. He also called the 2012 and 2014 Rose and Sugar Bowls. His current salary is approximately $300,000 as of 2023.
Barry Anderson: A former NC State football player, Barry Anderson has been with the NFL since 1999. In fact, he was a referee on the first all-Black officiating crew in the history of the NFL, during the match between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams. Like Allen, his current salary is approximately $300,000.
Michael Banks: Banks has been with the NFL since 2002. The first game that he officiated was between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. He currently takes home approximately $250,000 a year.
Requirements to Become an NFL Referee
There are no specific education requirements for NFL officials. Having said that, it’s usually expected that you have at least a bachelor’s degree. While the specific major isn’t as important, those who have a bachelor’s in Sports Management, Sports Health, or a related field, are generally preferred, as they’re more suited for the role.
If anything, experience is more important than education. In fact, extensive experience on the field is one of the main requirements for NFL officials. More specifically, you must have at least ten years of experience officiating football games, at least five of which are for major college teams.
Not only that but individuals must also be in good health as they’re required to be on their feet for long periods of time. Previous experience as a football coach or player is also preferable as it will help prepare you for the part.
Steps on Becoming an NFL Referee
The process of becoming an NFL referee can be described in the following steps:
1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree From an Accredited College
Most, if not all NFL officials have a bachelor’s degree. Those with a sports-specific background (e.g. sports management) are more likely to be chosen for the position compared to those without one.
2. Attend a Training School
Many colleges offer special programs for aspiring referees. There are also third-party training schools that offer lessons on good sportsmanship, practices and expectations of referees, ethics, and how to interact with coaches on the field.
For example, the NFL has a Football Officiating Academy that offers football training, as well as lessons on character and life skills that are required of every official. They also provide on-field exercises and drills that cover four main areas of officiating: health and fitness, mechanics, character development, and rules. The best part is that all participants are trained by the best, including former and current NFL players and officials, and NFL scouts.
3. Register With Your State
Aspiring referees will have to register within the state that they’re practicing; that’ll allow them to officiate high school-level games. Depending on the state, there may be a written exam, in addition to training.
4. Accumulate Experience
The next step, which is perhaps the most important, is to gain experience. Generally speaking, referees will begin at the high school level, where they’ll remain for three to five years to gain connections and credibility. From there, they may move on to various football leagues.
5. Get Special Certification
Many aspiring NFL referees will attend various training sessions for special certification. while it’s not a big requirement for the league, those with special certification do have a higher chance of landing a position.
6. Get Noticed by Scouts
The NFL regularly sends scouts to college games to seek out new talent. That’s why it’s so important for referees to give their best at the games; it helps increase their chances of being noticed. Aside from their performance on the field, the league will also check the frequency of their work. For example, it’s not uncommon for them to check a candidate’s officiating schedule for the past seasons.
How Much Do NFL Officials Make During the Super Bowl Season?
The Super Bowl is the annual championship game that determines the league winner. If anything, it’s one of the most-watched sporting events in the world. In the United States alone, the Super Bowl LVII attracted more than 115 million viewers. Not only that but it also has a substantial audience base overseas.
Seeing as how the Super Bowl is the biggest and most important game for a team, it’s not surprising to know that NFL referees earn much more during the Super Bowl, which is understandable, given the higher stakes and responsibility.
According to one source, NFL officials earn between $30,000 to $50,000 (the exact amount will depend on their seniority and experience) for officiating a final play-off game, and that’s on top of their base salary.
Is Being an NFL Referee a Full-Time Job?
Despite the high pay, being an NFL referee is not a full-time job. Rather, all officials and referees are part-time employees. This has to do with the fact that there’s an off-season, which begins in February and lasts until August. During this period, the number of practice sessions is strictly limited by the league, which means that referees aren’t needed.
During the football season, however, they’re essentially full-time workers given the number of hours they put into the games.
Given that, it’s not surprising to know that many NFL referees have “day jobs” in addition to working for the league. Take Ed Hochuli, which has been with the NFL since 1990, for instance, he works as a civil litigator at a law firm when he isn’t on the field. Gene Sterastore is another example; he’s the co-owner of a Washington-based janitor supply company.