As fans can see every week, the job of the NFL referee is no easy task. From missed calls to a quick trigger finger, refs can get on the wrong side of fanbases reasonably quickly. And with attention never more focused on them, the job has never been harder, and this season has done the group no favors.
In return for the tough job they chose, what is the average NFL referee’s salary for enforcing the rules and trying to control the game every week? Additionally, which referees are reportedly the highest paid in the league, and how much is an NFL ref’s salary for the playoffs or Super Bowl? Let’s explore it all.
NFL Referee Salary Per Game
While the official numbers regarding the salary for NFL refs are unknown and not public information, there seems to be a general idea of where the number is reportedly at.
The value has been estimated using research via expired CBAs, giving us an idea of expected numbers with an educated look from years prior. After examination, calculations put an NFL official’s average salary at around $205,000 for the season heading into 2023.
The previous calculations from years earlier put the figure at $150,000, with the understanding that the price will continue to grow as the league does as well. While the price surely increases with time, it’s unlikely to make a big jump until the next referee-related CBA is up for renewal.
The current CBA runs through May 31, 2026, so the league’s officials appear locked into their current agreement for the foreseeable future.
It’s also important to know that the quoted figure of $205,000 per year is just an average for officials, not just the recognized NFL head referees that we see running crews on Sunday.
Hence, the average salary for NFL refs could be slightly higher than reported. The compensation for each official varies based on what role they have on the field and their experience level heading into the year.
The league does not solely just pay the NFL referee salary on a per-game basis. Referees are paid a flat fee per season and receive an additional per-game payment on top of that.
The money only goes up if you are selected to work a postseason game, which is worth nearly double that of the in-season game rate as the intensity and meaning grow comparably.
It has been reported that the highest per-game salary for NFL refs is $1,500. However, reports on the amount vary from study to study.
Who Is the Highest-Paid NFL Referee?
NFL referees who have earned the highest reported salary are Walt Anderson (now retired), Brad Allen, and Craig Wrolstad. All three have been reported to have made as much as $250,000 at one point in time in their careers.
As seen by recent events, even the highest-paid officials in the league can still find themselves entrenched in controversy on any given week, further proving how volatile this position truly is.
In comparison, Tony Corrente was estimated to make around $230,000. His retirement stops him from joining the big three previously mentioned. Veteran refs like Carl Cheffers, Bill Vinovich, and Clete Blakeman will start to climb that totem pole as they become the elder statesmen of the group over the next few years.
Meanwhile, Sarah Thomas is the highest-paid female referee. The NFL hired the second female official, Maia Chaka, in 2021, and she is also the first black woman to officiate an NFL game.
The league has since hired a third female official, Robin DeLorenzo, who previously officiated for the Big Ten, and side judge Lo Van Pham. Van Pham will be the first Asian-American to officiate an NFL game.
The NFL has made it a point to have more representation throughout the league, and this has been evidence of their focus. With all that said, neither the NFL nor NFLRA has ever publicly disclosed official numbers. Additionally, it’s not known whether the reported amounts include per-game additions or are the flat salaries each NFL referee earns.
How Much Does a Ref Make in the Super Bowl?
Making it to the Super Bowl is earned, not given. And that goes for officials as well. Referees who are selected to work the postseason and Super Bowl receive a significant bonus to their salary, and it is something that only the best of that season get the privilege of earning.
Like much of the information surrounding officials, there are various reports, but the lower end of those place an NFL official’s salary at around $3,000-5,000 per postseason game. Meanwhile, the higher estimates place a Super Bowl salary for an NFL referee at around $50,000, which serves as a massive pay bump.
The other officials on the field do not earn as much as referees for postseason games. However, reports indicate their salaries start at $3,000 per postseason game and go up from there.
Are NFL Referees Full-Time?
The NFL has experimented with transitioning around 20% of its referees to full-time league employees.
However, that program was shelved during the 2019 CBA discussions, and currently, there are no full-time officials on the NFL payroll. The NFL intended to resurrect the program in 2020 but decided against the decision, overhauling the officiating program in its entirety.
Former senior vice president of officiating, Al Riverson, was given a smaller role focusing on just the replay review system and the NFL then brought in Perry Fewell as the senior vice president of officiating administration and retired referee Walt Anderson as the senior vice president in charge of training and development.
Referees have what is referred to as a dark period between the end of the season and the middle of May. During that time and during the summer, they typically focus on their other job profession outside of football.
During the season, they’re essentially considered full-time employees for the league, while others try to maintain their 9-5 jobs on the weekdays, serving as a chance to double-dip incomes.
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