What Do Pro Football Referees Get Paid?

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In the United States, professional football is largely represented by the National Football League (NFL). Referees in the NFL receive a yearly salary even though they only work for a portion of the year. Salary ranges are established by the league in conjunction with the NFL Referees Association.

NFL Referees

  • As of 2011, NFL referees were paid an average of around $70,000 per season. National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) referees earn an average of $128,000 and $139,000 yearly as of 2011, but the per game pay for NFL referees is higher. NFL referees are part-time employees and work just 20 games a year. NBA and NHL referees are full-time employees who are expected to be available for full seasons that last 82 games.

Pay Increases

  • In August of 2001, NFL referees agreed to strike and sit out the season. In turn, the NFL presented the NFL Referees Association with a 40 percent increase that granted an extra $10,000 to senior-level referees. A month later, the referees accepted a five-year contract deal. It included a 50 percent pay increase. First year officials got $29,000 yearly, while referees with more than 20 years experience got $90,000. The next pay increases in 2006 granted first year officials a starting salary of $34,000. Referees with 20-plus years were guaranteed $120,000.

Part-Time Income

  • NFL referees are considered part-time employees--with much of the travel and work on weekends-- and may have other professional occupations. Senior referees Walt Anderson, Bill Leavy and Ed Hochuli, who had 15, 16 and 21 years of experience respectively as of 2011, are good examples. In 2011, Anderson was a physician in the Houston area. Leavy was a retired California police officer, and Hochuli was an attorney in Arizona.

Replacement Referees

  • In rare cases of lockouts, or labor disputes, replacement officials may be hired to officiate games. In the league's last referee lockout in 2001, replacement officials were hired at $2,000 a week and were guaranteed four weeks of salary. They worked a total of two weeks (the last preseason game and the first regular season game) before the regular NFL referees returned to work.

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