Preparing for a career in athletics can offer many unique opportunities, one of which includes officiating for sports leagues. By taking the time to research your career options and the estimated salaries offered at each level, you can create a plan specifically tailored to what you want from your career.
In this article, we define the job responsibilities of a referee, review the different salary ranges available for those at each league level, types of sporting leagues, necessary requirements for those looking to pursue a career as a referee and the overall job outlook for the profession.
What does a referee do?
A referee is responsible for making sure that the rules of a particular sport are being adhered to by players during a sporting event. They are tasked with making difficult calls that could influence the outcome of a game, and they are expected to act as a neutral third party among the opposing teams and their coaches.
Referees can work at the recreational, high school, collegiate, minor and major league levels within sports such as football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, volleyball, tennis, rugby and lacrosse.
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How much does a referee get paid?
The average salary for a referee in the United States is recorded here at $16.26 per hour. A referee's pay scale can be influenced by multiple factors, including the level at which they work and the particular sport in which they are employed. For updated salary averages for any of the referee titles listed in this article, follow the link back to Indeed Salaries.
Referee salaries and responsibilities at each level
Here is a list of typical salaries and expectations of referees at each level:
National average salary: $11.58 per hour
Primary duties: A youth sports referee is responsible for overseeing sporting events for elementary, middle and high school-aged athletes. They use their knowledge of basketball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, football and other sports offered at this level to provide accurate judgment of games.
National average salary: $25.00 per hour
Primary duties: A local sports referee can work as part of a local club organization or recreational facility. They are responsible for applying their knowledge of a particular sport toward youth, coed and adult sporting events.
National average salary: $20.00 per hour
Primary duties: State sports referees can be employed by state club leagues, colleges, universities and minor league sporting organizations. The different levels of talent that are required within state-wide sporting leagues means that varying levels of experience are required on the part of a referee in order to complete their job duties.
National average salary: $19.61 per hour
Primary duties: A national sports referee is responsible for overseeing sporting events for national leagues and club teams. Referees at this level should have an in-depth understanding of a particular sport and its practices.
Types of sporting leagues and referee salaries for each
The following section reviews the salary projects for referees and umpires in specific leagues at the major and minor levels.
State and club leagues
Flag Star Football is a youth and young adult football league that has locations across the United States. Based on Indeed Salaries data, the average salary for a referee is $13.62 per hour, which is approximately $27,000 a year.
At an adult and children's indoor soccer league such as Arena Sports, a referee is paid an average of $15.79 per hour `according to Indeed Salaries data. This hourly amount can be translated to approximately $31,000 per year.
The USABL is an amateur league that operates across the United States. Based on salary data acquired from Indeed Jobs, umpires employed at this level can make between $20 to $40 per hour, which is approximately $40,000 to $80,000 per year.
Major and national leagues
The United States Soccer Federation, owned by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) consists of the U.S. women's and men's national teams as well as youth national teams and paralympic national teams. According to Indeed Salaries data, referees make an average of $20.43 per hour. This hourly figure can be translated into earnings of approximately $40,000 a year.
According to Indeed Salaries data, professional athletes can make approximately $300,000 a year in the NFL, while operations coordinators in the NFL can be expected to earn an average of $20.35 per hour, or approximately $42,000 a year. From these figures, it can be estimated that referees at the professional football level make between $40,000-$300,000 a year.
In MLB, its referees, called "umpires," are paid between $120,000-350,000 a year, according to the MLB's website. These figures can be altered depending on an individual's years of experience.
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Requirements for referees
The following section lists requirements for referees regardless of the sport they officiate or the level at which they are employed:
- Acquire correct certification. Referees, especially those looking for employment in youth or high school level sports are required to obtain the correct certification or licensure in accordance with state or local law. Those working with children might also be expected to complete fingerprinting and a background check with local law enforcement to ensure they are okay to be in the presence of those under the age of 18.
- Be of moral character. Referees are expected to make unbiased calls that contribute to a fair result, as they are considered to be the neutral party at a sporting event. There have been issues with referees taking bribes and purposefully making calls that contributed to an unjust win for a team, so it's important that referees can be trusted as officials who possess a moral character, void of any mal-intentions.
- Possess in-depth knowledge of a sport and its rules. A referee should have experience playing and observing a sport in order to be a proper judge of its players and their actions during a game. They might have to take a training course and test to ensure that they understand the sport they wish to officiate and its residing rules and regulations.
- Practice good communication skills. A referee should have great verbal communication skills as they are expected to communicate between coaches, players and other referees to make a decision about a particular incident, or explain the reasoning behind a call they made.
- Be physically fit. Referees should be physically fit as they are expected to be able to run alongside the players while a play is being completed. They might also have to use quick maneuvers to avoid getting in the way. Depending on the sport, they might also be expected to stand or crouch for extended periods of time.
- Have a tendency toward leadership. Referees should have a tendency toward leadership as they are the officiating body of a sporting event. They are often the ones involved in separating players involved in physical altercations and are responsible for staying calm when coaches and players are verbally aggressive regarding a call they made.
Referee job outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for referees is projected to increase by 6% by 2028. This figure does not include estimates from those expected to retire from the profession in the next ten years. Those looking for employment at the youth and high school levels are expected to have more opportunities than those pursuing a career at the collegial or professional level, as there is more competition for referee positions at this level.