Soccer (known as football outside the US and Canada) is the most popular sport in the entire world, with an estimated four billion fans across the globe.
As a result, soccer players are paid a huge amount of money, which is made possible by all the ticket sales of fans eager to watch the game in person. However, they are not the only ones on the soccer pitch.
Referees are really important to the game, responsible for making the decisions that will mean whether a team wins or loses.
If a ball is kicked out, the referee decides what happens next. If a player is acting up, the referee decides the punishment. Without a referee, the game would be chaos – they keep the law!
But how much does a referee make? They’re essential to the game, but do they make as much as the soccer players themselves? Well, we’ve collected together a range of information about soccer referee salaries. Read on to find out all about their pay!
How Much Does A Soccer Referee Get Paid?
There is a great difference across the board about how much a soccer referee is likely to get paid. It differs based on country as well as category!
For example, a top level referee in the MLS (Major League Soccer, America’s head soccer organization) will earn $875 for judging a game, while a referee working on a youth soccer game will earn $50 at most.
Across the ocean, though, a referee in Spain will earn about $6,776 per game – a major difference! In fact, referees working in Europe are going to earn more than they do in America, whatever the country. This is perhaps because soccer is much more popular in these places!
That being said, America still has plenty of interest in the game. For the financial year that came to a close in March 2019, the United States Soccer Federation, Inc. reported that the fees from registration and affiliation fees were at their second highest when coming from the referee side of things.
Those sign-up fees and so on made $2.93 million alone, which is staggering! It far outdid Professional and Amateur registrations, but was outdone by Youth sign-ups as a whole.
But do these high fees equal high salaries? It may cost you to become a referee, with costs from registration itself to background checks and soccer uniforms, but how much are you going to be earning back?
United States Soccer spends around $4.5 million on all its referees, so let’s break down the different referee salaries.
How Much Does A Referee Get Paid In The Major League Soccer (MLS)?
A lot of money is put into soccer in America, even though it isn’t even the most popular sport here.
United States Soccer spend around $21 million on its management system, particularly the managers of the teams, while $71 million goes on the teams as a whole, buying and paying their players.
This is a lot of money, and yet not much of it actually goes to the referees – who are there at every match, just like the manager and the team.
They’re even on the pitch themselves, right in the action, which is much more dangerous than the manager standing safely at the side-line!
Regardless, let’s look at the salaries. There are lots of different tiers to how referees get paid, too, so we’re going to look at all of them.
US soccer referees move up levels of game and pay depending on their overall experience. The more they do, the higher they go and the more they earn!
This begins at Level 1, where a referee is going to be earning about $565 per soccer match. This is the least a referee is going to be earning on adult matches, because youth matches are just less overall anyway.
An assistant referee is likely to earn just $255 per game, while fourth officials will take home even less – just $205. A “fourth official” is someone who assists the referee and the assistant referees, there at all times throughout the game to help deal with officials and players.
For somebody who is there just as long, it’s a very small amount.
When the referee has between 21 and 40 games under their belt, they are working on Level 2 salaries and matches. Here, they make $670 per match. It’s an increase, but not a huge one, which is a shame considering that they need quite a bit more experience.
When a referee has worked on 41-75 matches, they move up to Level 3 and earn around $775 per soccer game. An assistant referee on the same level makes under half of that, at $360, and the fourth officials earn a small $260.
The highest level is Level 4, which a referee enters when they have refereed at least 76 soccer matches. To reflect their experience, they earn $875 per match, and could even get a spot refereeing an MLS All-Star game and earn a comparatively massive $1,500.
An assistant referee at Level 4 makes almost $500 and the fourth official earns $285. For the top level of experience, having done near to a 100 matches, the fourth official earns an unarguably low salary.
The referee salary also depends on the types of soccer games that are being played, with the money increasing as the games get more and more important. The general base for an MLS League game, a top level one, is almost $900 per match as we have said before.
Now, the League progresses and so does the salary. The MLS has Playoffs, which is an annual tournament where teams are eliminated as it goes on until there is one final victorious winner.
At the start of the Playoffs, a referee is likely to be earning around $1000 per match, a nice tidy sum.
This increases when the games are a couple of stages into the Playoffs, where the referee could be earning $1200.
Then, when the Playoffs reach their finals, a referee will be earning about $1500. This is certainly the most an American referee is likely to learn, but as you will see it pales compared to the salaries in Europe.
It also seems quite little when you take into account the level of pressure.
Particularly in the final game of a tournament, both the players and the fans are going to be on the edge – and more than happy to get annoyed if the referee makes a decision they don’t like.
A referee is likely to be the target for when somebody’s favorite team loses, and if they’re earning just $1500 from this top tier game, does it really seem worth it?
Insecure Pay Rate
In fact, most American referees are only paid for each game that they do. They are not on a consistent and reliable salary, or a retainer (a regular payment), rather just paid for each match.
This is how things are typically done for refereeing all across the globe, but that isn’t to say that it’s right.
Imagine you’re a freelance journalist, getting paid for each article you write, and nothing more. Does this feel secure? The answer is most likely no, because you can never settle or feel comfortable – you always have to be looking for the next job or piece.
It can be a stressful way of life when you don’t have a set salary income, and it is no different for a soccer referee.
What happens if there are no games to referee? Or the game is too far away to travel to? It can be difficult to support a family when this is the way, especially when many of the per-match incomes are as small as we’ve mentioned earlier.
Additionally, being a referee is a much more public job than most other “freelance” jobs. Teams and fans can get at you, and your decisions will live on in the history of the game.
You may even be broadcast on television! With all this to think about, it seems that the referee should be earning much more – and more consistently.
How Much Does A Youth Soccer Referee Get Paid?
The pay rate for youth soccer referees is far below the pay for the high profile adult matches, but still works in levels. A referee for the eldest matches, the Under 19s, will make $50 per game, while Under 16 will net them exactly the same.
Despite the age divisions, the pay at the top is oddly identical! When it gets to Under 14, however, it drops to $38 and continues to do so, until the very bottom – where Under 10 and Under 8 will both pay a referee $27. This is almost half the top youth referee pay!
How Much Does A Referee Get Paid Across European Countries?
As we’ve mentioned, a soccer referee working in Europe (where the game is known as football) is almost always going to earn a lot more than a referee working in America. This is likely because the game is far more popular over there.
With that being said, the pay still varies greatly across the different countries, with some paying much more than others. Below, we’re going to break down the referee pay per match across these places.
Champions League Referee Pay
The Champions League is the key soccer tournament in Europe, where many European countries come together and play off to be crowned champion of the continent. It’s been going 67 years strong, and is clearly a very important event.
Despite this, the pay isn’t always great for referees. In the very early stages of the tournament, in the starter games, a referee is likely to earn around $855.
However, if the referee works their way up and gets to judge some later, more important games, they could be earning well over $4500.
And if they make it to the very final rounds of the tournament? Understandably a lot more.
Given that the game will be watched by millions of fans, some in the stadium and many on television, there’s a lot of pressure for the referee to perform well and give proper judgment to the match. For their troubles, a soccer referee could be earning around $6724.
In fact, it is suggested that the referee for the final earns – wait for it – $10,000! Which is the most by far, and for a reason. These top levels are called the Elite tier.
However, despite the added pressure, the assistant referee is still undersold. They make just $3000, despite the importance of the game. Moreso, the 4th Umpire (the European title for the fourth official) makes a tiny $1000 for their help.
Premier League Pay – England
Considering that soccer was invented in Britain, they take it seriously. However, their referee pay may not be as big as some other European countries.
England has the Premier League, their top tournament where 20 teams play each other, each kicking around 38 matches. A soccer referee in the League is likely to earn about $1497 per match.
However, England is one of the few places where the referee will also often earn a retainer – a consistent salary. This is typically $50,000 per year, and grows with experience. So, despite the smaller per match salary, they do well overall!
Bundesliga Pay – Germany
For the German professional soccer association, a referee is likely to earn about $4100 for doing just one match.
Serie A Pay – Italy
For Italy, where their top league is called Serie A, a soccer referee is going to be making about just under $4000, at $3906.
La Liga Pay – Spain
Now here’s the big one. In La Liga, the men’s top professional football division in Spain, a soccer referee is likely to earn…$6771! Per match!
This is an awful lot of money when compared to most other referee earnings, all over the world, and is by far the highest. They still don’t earn a retainer, though.
Ligue 1 Pay – France
If a soccer referee is working within Ligue 1, the top men’s professional football league in France, they’re going to earn just over $3100 per game.
At under half the amount a referee gets in Spain, it’s by no means a lot, but still much more than a referee is usually earning in America.
Primeira Liga Pay – Portugal
The top level of the Portuguese football league, a soccer referee will earn about $1302 for their work on a match.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Makes A Good Referee?
A referee needs to be unbiased, not rooting for a specific team in the match they’re judging. They also need to be on the ball, if you’ll excuse the pun, watching every event in the game with a keen eye.
Good eye sight is a must, too! When they make the decisions, they need to be a calm and clear communicator as well.
What Does A Soccer Referee Have?
They’ll need a few items with them on pitch, such as a stopwatch for timing and a whistle for making his presence clear. A notebook and pencil is also handy, and having red and yellow offense cards is essential.
How Much Do Players Make?
A lot more than referees! The highest paid player in the world is Lionel Messi, who makes $41 million a year. That’s an enormous amount more than referees.
Many top players get paid $100,000s each week, which barely compares to the small amount a referee might earn just per game.
Even though the job of referee is crucial to soccer – after all, who would decide who won and lost? – it can be an underpaid position.
Though you do get more money as you get more experience, the typical amount a referee earns per game can be too little considering the amount of responsibility they have.
A team’s fate hangs on their decisions! And fans aren’t always too happy with the result – the referee can be an easy target.
That said, being a soccer referee in Europe clearly pays a lot more than being on in America, where they don’t appear to be valued quite as much. But if you can get the work, it isn’t always too bad to be a soccer referee – it’s certainly a unique and interesting job!