How Much Do NFL Referees Make a Year?

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NFL referees are paid based on seniority and receive post-season bonuses.
NFL referees are paid based on seniority and receive post-season bonuses. (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The National Football League has become the most popular team spectator sport in the U.S., beating out the "national pastime" of baseball in viewership. The NFL is also the only major professional sports league whose in-game officials are not all full-time employees. The NFL Referees Association and the league agreed to a new labor contract in 2012, and this contract includes base pay increases until the agreement expires after the 2019 season.

Base Pay

In 2011, the average base pay for NFL referees was $149,000, according to CNN and CBS Sports. First-year officials earned $75,000 per 16-game season, while the most senior game officials made $160,000 a year. The 2012 agreement increased the base pay for rookie referees to $78,000 and veteran officials' pay to $200,000 starting in the 2013 season. Officials for the 2019 season will receive an average base pay of $203,000.

Part-Time Jobs

Until the 2012 labor agreement was reached, all NFL in-game officials worked as part-time seasonal employees. After the agreement, the league created some full-time positions for in-game officials, but many still remain part-time employees. As part-time employees, they do not receive paid vacation time, sick leave or health insurance benefits. Senior NFL referee Ed Hochuli has a "day job" as a partner in a Phoenix law firm. Hochuli told an ESPN reporter that he spends as much as 30 hours a week reviewing the rules, traveling to venues and studying game films for his part-time job.

Post-Season Pay

Referees and other in-game officials whom the NFL selects to oversee post-season games receive the same pay as they would for any other game. The post-season officials are selected by individual position, not as an overall crew. In the 2014-2015 playoffs, officials received an average of $10,500 per game. The official with the highest overall grades at each position who has not yet worked in a Super Bowl game is eligible to work in the current year's Super Bowl.

NFL Officiating Development

The NFL launched its Football Officiating Academy in 2010. The objective of the FOA is to train the next generation of in-game officials in the rules of the game and to handle communication issues and conflict disputes during in-game action. The program includes rules instruction, physical training, life skills workshops and on-field positioning drills. Participants can attend the one-day clinic, the weekend workshop or the full eight- to 10-week program.

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