It Pays to Be a FIFA or NBA Referee, Not So Much an NFL Official

It’s tough to be a referee for any sport. They don’t get much love from players or fans and face immense amounts of criticism. Although it’s an incredibly thankless job, it’s crucial to professional sports. So which refs have the best gigs and make the most money?

Average FIFA referee pay:$260,000

Being a FIFA referee is an especially tough job. Physical fitness is crucial to be able to last through the 120-minute games. They’re subjected to verbal and sometimes physical abuse from fans, coaches, and players — and then they’re criticized by analysts. The tough environment can lead many referees to quit.

Referees at all levels are associated with FIFA, but only the best, at the highest grade, are chosen to officiate international games. Refs move up through the grade levels by officiating more games, passing written exams, passing fitness tests, and receiving recommendations from assessors.

Grade 1 FIFA referees are between ages 25 and 45. And World Cup referees are an international group selected from many domestic leagues

In addition to officiating games, FIFA refs for the U.S. Soccer Federation Referee Program complete online training to prepare and complete reports after games. Refs also must be registered and certified each year with their State Referee Association.

European officials are paid only by the game but can earn about $260,000 a year. English Premier League refs are paid a salary plus an amount for each game, adding up to close to $100,000. However, English Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg recently signed a deal with the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, which may pay him between $390,000 and $650,000 per year to officiate games in Saudi Arabia.

Other UK referees, especially women, may make as little as $23,000. In 2018, World Cup referees made up to $70,000 plus a match fee of $3,000. Assistant referees got paid $25,000 plus a match fee of $2,000.

Average NBA referee pay:$250,000 to $500,000

The NBA Scouting Group locates potential referees working with a variety of groups, from intramurals to international. About 100 are invited to elite training camps each year. After training and evaluation, those hired participate in Summer League training and/or a new hire orientation. New hires work in the G League, and the best are hired for the NBA and WNBA. In the 2014–15 season, there were only 63 referees.

NBA refs travel about 25 days each month for eight months during the season (even more if they officiate the playoffs). Before games, referees check the equipment and court, observe warmups, and make sure players meet the uniform and jewelry regulations.

In addition to knowing the rules and paying attention to the details, refs must be physically fit in order to run up and down the court. After games, refs review film of their work and prepare for their next game.

Some of the top NBA referees are quite well-known and well-compensated. The pay ranges from $250,000 to $500,000, depending on seniority. WNBA referees make less, at about $180,000. Playoff games are extra and bring in $800 to $5,000. Benefits include a travel stipend, insurance, plus retirement benefits.

Average NFL referee pay: $201,000

NFL referees are found by scouts from the NFL Officiating Department. They generally have 10 years of ref experience, with five years at the varsity college or professional level. Some exceptions are made for former players or coaches.

Pro football referees are also expected to be in good shape and required to belong to an accredited football officials’ association. There are about 100 referees, and seven officiate each game. Officials work 14 games a season.

Referees are expected to know the entire rule book and get every call right. They attend trainings, which are especially important when there are a lot of rule changes between seasons. While the NFL provides a travel stipend, referees are responsible for booking their own travel.

Refs usually arrive in a city the day before a game and take care of any paperwork or inspections. After the game, there is additional paperwork and reports. The rest of the week is spent reviewing film and preparing for the next game. The NFL Officiating Department continues to review everyone’s performances.

The average NFL referee made $201,000 for the season in 2019, according to But there is a pay scale determined by years in the league. They also get bonuses for postseason games. In 2001, the Super Bowl refs got an extra $11,900. More recent numbers aren’t available, but estimates it could be $30,000 to $50,000. There’s also a retirement plan with partial matching contributions.