Soccer referees face a stressful and difficult task, trying to maintain the rules of the game while 22 players fight for supremacy on the field. While this is no easy task, referees are well-compensated for their work. Professional referees in North America earn respectable wages in Major League Soccer, while their European counterparts earn extremely lucrative match fees in their various leagues.
As of 2009, referees in MLS receive a starting salary of $565 per game. With experience this pay rises to $875. For assistant referees with 20 games or less of experience, the pay begins at $255 per game and climbs to $495 after more than 76 games. For the fourth official the beginning pay is $205 per match with steady increases to a top fee of $285 per game.
As of 2009, in the playoffs MLS referees earn $1,000 for first round games, $1,200 for second round games and $1,500 for MLS cup games. Assistant referees in the playoffs earn $520 in the first round, increasing to $525 in the second round and topping off at $750 in the MLS Cup. Fourth officials earn $350 for matches in the first round, $450 for second round matches and $600 in the MLS Cup.
In MLS exhibition games a referee earns $185 per game as of 2009. The senior assistant referee earns $135, the junior assistant referee earns $110 and the fourth official earns $75. Referees earn bonuses based on their assessments. The top five referees each receive a $1,500 bonus while the top 10 assistant referees receive $1,000 bonus. Referees also receive a per diem and accommodations during playoff games.
Referees earn different fees in the international arena, with the top wages being found amongst European leagues. As of 2011, English referees earn €.1,170 ($1,675) per game while German referees earn €.3,600 per match ($5,153). Italian referees take home a respectable €.3,400 ($4,867) per game and French referees earn €.2,751 ($3,938). Portuguese referees bring in a per game fee of €.1,188 ($1,700). Spanish referees are the best paid, making a whopping €.6,000 ($8,587) for a 90-minute game.