How Much Do NFL Refs Make? (Plus Job Requirements)

Jennifer Herrity

Updated September 7, 2022

Published February 25, 2020

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

For those interested in professional football, the National Football League (NFL) offers several roles on and off the field. By enforcing regulations during games, NFL referees hold an important role in the league, and their salaries can often reflect their influence. Learning more about NFL referee salaries and how to obtain one of these roles can help you develop the skills to succeed in a fast-paced position.

In this article, we answer the question "How much NFL refs make?" describe the position and its requirements and list six steps you can follow to begin a career as an NFL referee. 


What is a referee?

A referee, often called a "ref," acts as an official authority figure in a variety of sports. They remain on the sidelines as a neutral party in games, making quick calls and decisions about what they see. Referees enforce the rules of their chosen sport, sometimes ejecting players for poor conduct. They may also make decisions about whether to count scoring plays and monitor remaining game time. 

In some cases, referee positions may include specialized responsibilities. For example, some refs may judge lines to determine if a ball goes out of play. Since their decisions can often alter the outcomes of games, NFL referees often have advanced experience and earn higher pay.

Related: 6 of the Best Alternative Careers in Sports


How much do NFL refs make?

According to various sports outlets, the average salary for an NFL referee in 2019 was $205,000 per year. This yearly salary doesn't depend on the number of games that a referee officiates per season. It can depend on the seniority and experience of the referee though. In addition, referees can earn bonuses for officiating games in the NFL's post-season. For example, a referee who the league selects to officiate the Super Bowl can earn up to a $10,000 bonus. In comparison, the average referee outside of the NFL makes $46,861 per year on average.

For the most up-to-date salary information, click on the links provided.

Related: FAQ About Working in Sports (With 10 Jobs To Consider)


Why does the NFL pay so much?

NFL employees can often earn a high salary based on the league's popularity and high revenue. Additionally, referees may make a significant salary based on their influence and ability to enforce rules in important games with many viewers. You may be required to complete many years of experience and training to become eligible for a role as an NFL ref.

Related: FAQ: How Much Do NFL Players Make During a Season?


Requirements for NFL referees

Here are some of the requirements for a referee position:


Education

There are no specific education requirements for working in the NFL as a referee. Many NFL referees have at least a bachelor's degree in any major, though. Those majoring in sports health, sports management or a related field may become more prepared for the role. These majors can also help you understand the business and operations of the NFL. 

Related: What Is Sports Management? Plus 10 Jobs in This Industry


Experience

Candidates for an NFL referee role are required to have extensive experience on the field. The NFL requires at least 10 years of officiating in football games. Of those 10, at least five should include major college games. If you want to become an NFL referee, you may want to begin your career by gaining experience in lower-level referee roles.

Related: How Much Do Referees Get Paid? With Salaries and Job Duties


Good health

All candidates for the role of any referee may be in good physical health. The role requires individuals to be on their feet for long periods of time, often running. Previous experience as football players or coaches helps, as those individuals may be more prepared for the role.

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How to become an NFL referee

The following steps describe how to become an NFL referee:


1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Although not a major requirement, many NFL referees have a college-level education. While you can select many different major options, those with sports-specific backgrounds have a greater chance of entry into this role. Consider looking into colleges with large football programs to help you learn more about the industry.

Related: 15 Majors Involving Sports (With Job Details)


2. Obtain training

Colleges, officiating organizations and third-party training schools offer programs for aspiring referees. These programs offer a deeper understanding of rules and gameplay and also specific lessons on ethics, good sportsmanship, expectations and practices of referees, and interacting with coaches on the field. These skills can help you succeed as you build your officiating resume.

Related: 41 Football Coach Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)


3. Pursue state registration

Many referees begin their sports careers officiating high school-level games. Doing so requires registration within the state they practice. Every state has different requirements, but many registration processes include a written exam. After successfully completing a training program, a referee may be eligible for registration.

Related: How To Become a Referee


4. Gain experience

After earning the proper training, education and registration, the next step involves getting on the field. Many referees begin at the high school level and move on to colleges or leagues. You may remain at the high school level for three to five years before gaining enough credibility or connections for roles at higher levels. During this time, try to improve your skills and advance your game knowledge to help you succeed in a higher-level position.

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5. Earn certification

Some referees become certified by attending special training sessions. While this isn't a major requirement for the NFL, hiring professionals may consider all additional credentials. Those with special certifications may have greater chances of earning employment by the NFL.


6. Get noticed

After at least five years of officiating college games, many referees meet the basic eligibility requirements for the NFL. The league sends scouts to games. They may not reveal when they're going to specific games and only attend for the sole purpose of seeking new talent. Getting noticed requires referees to always perform their best. When considering certain individuals, the NFL checks the frequency of their work along with their officiating schedule for the past three seasons. This includes schools, dates and game locations. 

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are associated with Indeed.


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