An NFL referee is either your team’s best friend or its worst enemy. There is no middle ground. You either love them dearly or hate them unmercifully. The feelings toward NFL officiating will never change, either.
In many ways, it takes a lot to be a referee, and it’s not even a full-time job. They don’t receive days off or get any company health insurance. The NFL also requires them to be physically fit, know the rules and travel to games. Even then, knowing the NFL rulebook inside and out isn’t the same as making the correct call in a split second.
Don’t worry, though. They get paid like crazy during regular season games and playoff games, even if they blow calls like in the 2019 NFC Championship Game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. TIME reported in 2001 that field zebras can rake in as much as $11,900 for working postseason games like the Super Bowl.
How Much Do NFL Referees Make?
We’ve all wondered it at one point: How much do NFL refs make?
The answer: It’s a big pay day.
According to various sites, including FanDuel, the average NFL referee salary was set at $205,000 per year starting in 2019. TWO-HUNDRED-AND-FIVE-THOUSAND-DOLLARS! That average salary is more than some doctors. It’s also a lot more than a few years ago, when a heated lockout in 2012 resulted in inexperienced replacement referees and a Referees Association that secured more money for its members.
For whatever reason, some people, including ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio, feel like the National Football League needs to pony up even more money to pay referees so the men in the white hats don’t leave the profession during the offseason.
But, honestly, why would anyone really want to leave that part-time job and retire?
With 17 weeks in the NFL regular season, a referee would make $12,058.82 per NFL game. That’s just the base salary and doesn’t even include the hefty bonus checks game officials receive for working during postseason football games, too.
That annual salary NFL referees make, my friends, is so much money.
NFL Referee List
In 2018, after Ed Hochuli retired, the list of NFL referees included: Brad Allen, Walt Anderson, Clete Blakeman, Jerome Boger, Carl Cheffers, Walt Coleman, Tony Corrente, Shawn Hochuli, John Hussey, Alex Kemp, Clay Martin, Pete Morelli, John Parry, Shawn Smith, Ron Torbert, Bill Vinovich, and Craig Wrolstad.
The NFL had some fresh faces last season, however. As the PFT story and NBC’s Peter King stated, seven of the league’s 17 referees retired in a 13-month span, including John Parry, who was the referee for Super Bowl LIII between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams in February 2019.
In 2019, the list of NFL referees included: Brad Allen, Walt Anderson, Clete Blakeman, Jerome Boger, Carl Cheffers, Tony Corrente, Adrian Hill, Shawn Hochuli, John Hussey, Alex Kemp, Clay Martin, Scott Novak, Brad Rogers, Shawn Smith, Ronald Torbert, Bill Vinovich, and Craig Wrolstad.
In 2020, Land Clark replaced Walt Anderson.
Although no NFL referees opted out of the 2020 season, a few NFL officials did, including Jeff Bergman (line judge), Steve Freeman (back judge), Greg Gautreaux (field judge), Joe Larrew (field judge), and Tony Steratore (back judge), due to the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 outbreak.
No matter the trend of NFL referees making a jump to TV, that’s still a ton of money for basically doing about three weeks worth of actual work a few months out of the year. It also paves the way for umpires, head linesmen/down judges, line judges, field judges, side judges and back judges to move up in the ranks.
So whether you only graduated from high school or earned your Master’s degree, you can live the American dream from New York to Los Angeles with an NFL referee salary and never have to worry after the big game is over. The same can said for refereeing in leagues like the NBA, MLB and NHL as well.
That is, unless you blow another call against star football players.
UPDATE (August 18, 2020): According to ESPN, the NFL is keeping their referees as part-time employees for the 2020 NFL season. It had originally decided to make 10 referees full-time employees in May 2020 but recently backtracked on that to save money.
The NFL used to have a full-time program in 2017 and 2018, according to ESPN, but stopped it amid new collective bargaining agreement talks between the NFL and NFL Referees Association. The decision could ultimately hurt the product on the field, because many believe full-time referees will mean better officiating.
Between the start of the regular season and Super Bowl LV in Tampa on CBS, you better believe NFL referees will be trending.
This post was originally published on April 4, 2019 before updating.