What is the annual NFL referee salary? We originally posted this article in September 2012, when the NFL Referees Association was in the midst of a very bitter and very embarrassing lockout with the National Football League. The lockout forced the NFL to call in replacement refs for several months of the 2012-2013 season. The replacement refs turned out to be a disaster. One particularly embarrassing incident occurred during a game against the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks when one of the replacement refs blew what might go down as the worst call in sports history. The terrible call caused a national outcry for the NFL to settle the lockout and bring the "official" officials as soon as humanely possible. So that got us thinking, what is the average NFL referee salary and what did it take to resolve the strike?
NFL Referee Salary
During the 2012-2013 season, the average NFL referee salary was $149,000. For the 2013-2014 the average NFL referee salary was $173,000. In 2014-2015, the referees earn an average of $10,500 per game (regular season, pre-season and playoff), which works out to $180,000 per year.
By 2019, the average NFL salary will rise to $205,000. This season, a rookie NFL referee's salary starts at $78,000. A 10 year veteran can make as much as $200,000 per season. But here's the kicker (pun intended): NFL referees are not full time employees. They do not get paid time off and they do not receive health benefits. Even though NFL refereeing is a highly paid side job, most officials have full time jobs outside of Football. One of the most famous refs Ed Hochuli is a prominent attorney in Baltimore during the week.
Even though being an NFL ref is just a side-job, refs aren't simply running around blowing a whistle for a few hours each Sunday. NFL refs are required to spend 35-40 hours per week preparing for games, training physically, studying rules and traveling for games.
NFL Referee Strike – What were they Fighting Over?
Not surprisingly, the NFL referee strike was over money. On the one side, the NFL referees wanted to get paid as much as their MLB and NHL counterparts. A veteran baseball umpire can make as much as $400,000 per year and receives health insurance, paid time off and a full pension. The NFL has offered a contract that would raise the average NFL referee salary to $200,000 per season by 2018. The NFL claims the offer represents annual pay increases by 5-11% depending on seniority. The ref association counters that even with this proposed raise, they will still not make anywhere near the salary of their counterparts in other sports leagues. The NFL also wants to discontinue offering a pension to new referees and instead offer a 401k plan with matching contributions of up to $20,000 per year.
The NFL makes $9 billion per year, and that amount is expected to grow as high as $14 billion in the next five years. If the NFL caved 100% to every single request being made by the striking referees, the total cost would have amount to $16 million. Total. That's not an annual number, that's the full amount. The league thought hiring replacements wouldn't cause much of a difference in the game play. Clearly that was proven false. Part of the reason the replacement refs were so awful is that they came from the lowest levels of college football. The refs from college football's highest ranks refused to be scabs. The lower level refs were clearly unfit for a professional level of play.