Which Types of Referees Make the Most Money?


Various rules and regulations govern sports, which make it necessary for officials or referees to oversee the events, enforce rules and resolve disputes between players and teams. Income earned by referees can vary depending upon factors like the industry they work in, the sport they specialize in and the level of sport that they oversee.

Average Income for All Referees

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, the average annual income of all umpires, referees and other sports officials was $28,900 in May 2010. The annual income data is based upon working 2,080 hours annually. The bureau says that the top 25 percent of income earners among referees made $34,100 or more and that the top 10 percent made $50,350 or more.

Highest Paying Industries

Referee income depends upon the type of industry that they work in. The BLS states that the highest paying industries for referees in May 2010 were business, professional, political and similar organizations, which paid workers $39,470 a year on average; promoters of performing arts and sports, which paid workers $36,560 on average; and elementary and secondary schools that paid workers $36,320 on average. Referees invoked in the spectator sports industry earned $27,050 a year on average.

Professional Sports

Referees are necessary at all levels of sports. Many referees oversee events for lower sport levels, such as sporting events for children and informal sporting events, although some referees oversee professional sports event and earn incomes that are far greater than the average. According to a 2009 article in "Mental Floss" magazine, National Football League referees can make $25,000 to $70,000 a season; Major League Baseball umpires can earn as much as $120,000 a year to start and $300,000 with experience; National Basketball Association referees earn between $100,000 to $300,000 a season; and National Hockey League referees earn between $110,000 and $255,000 a season.


While the annual income data provided by the BLS is based upon 2,080 hours of work, many referees work irregular schedules on a part-time or seasonal basis. Because of this, the actual annual income earned by officiating referees may be lower than bureau estimates. Many referees have day jobs in addition to their referee positions.

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