But despite their understated TV presence, referees play a crucial role in any NFL season.
The NFL hasn’t released official numbers about referee salaries, but the consensus is that most are paid around $201,000 a year, along with the NFL’s contributions to a 401(k) plan.
If that sounds like a lot to you, remember that the players get paid millions, and the NFL is a billion-dollar industry. A ref’s salary may seem low, in comparison.
NFL refs receive a hefty payday for a part-time gig, but that doesn’t mean their job is easy. All refs have faced their fair share of backlash when fans or players disagreed with a call. Knowing the rulebook inside and out is one thing, but making the right call in a split-second decision is another. Even if refs call each play in a game perfectly, all that the fans usually remember is the one call that they missed.
Most fans know that players that win the Super Bowl take home an impressive bonus, yet not all of them know that the same rule applies to referees.
Let’s dive into which factors affect the pay of a referee, and what their job entails:
Do Refs Work Full-Time?
Not exactly—a referee job is considered part-time. They’re paid a base salary, along with a bonus for each game that they call. Postseason games, like being a referee for the Super Bowl, earn them more money than a regular season game.
In previous years, the NFL implemented a program that hired a percentage of its referees for full-time work. Some believed that having refs work more often would help facilitate more accurate calls. However, this was abolished in 2019—today, all referees work part-time.
The NFL season only lasts for 6-7 months, which means refs are out of work for part of the year. Most refs officiate one game per week. That leaves refs with a lot of offseason downtime, in which many of them get second jobs.
NFL Referee Requirements
It takes a lot to become a ref in the NFL. The League looks for traits like:
- Peak physical condition: To keep up with NFL star athletes, referees need to stay in top shape.
- Knowledge of the rules: Referees must know all of the game’s nuances to make the right calls.
- Willingness to travel: Football games take place all over the country, which means that refs must follow them around.
- Education: You won’t need a Ph.D. to become a referee, but a bachelor’s degree in a sports-related field helps a lot.
- Experience: Before a ref makes it to the NFL, they must spend years officiating games at the college level.
Overall, the League values consistent, neutral, and accurate referees. Despite protests from invested fans and players, refs have a pretty impressive track record when it comes to making the right calls. The rules of the NFL evolve each year, which means refs must stay up-to-date with changes. And thanks to instant replays, calls are more accurate than ever.
A football game lasts for 3 hours—a lot shorter than your average work shift. However, a ref spends most of their working time preparing for a game.
Prep work is one of the most important parts of being a referee. When the ref reaches the field, they want to have laser focus and limber muscles. Their routine involves training, exercising, studying, and honing their focus. Even after the game is finished, refs watch it back to review each call. They spend an average of 30-35 hours preparing for a game each week.
The NFL season has wrapped up for this year, but it certainly was a unique one, given that it featured the first female to officiate a Super Bowl game (Sarah Thomas).
When there’s money on the line, like when fans refer to football picks to place bets, they can become even more outraged after a missed or controversial call. Officiating NFL games is almost a thankless job—when refs are at their best, no one notices them.
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