There are 121 union referees in the NFL, and they share a total annual salary pool of $18 million. That shakes out to about $150,000 per year, on average – a number the NFL Referees’ Union would like to see increase. “The two sides have narrowed the gap on overall compensation. It is a gap that could be closed with some minor concessions by both sides,” Millis writes.
When the NFL and the referees’ union spoke two weeks ago before the regular season began, the NFL offered to add another $1 million to the refs’ salary pool, increasing average yearly pay to around $189,000 by 2016.
Making six figures to roam the sidelines at 16 or so football games per year might seem like a cushy gig, but watching the replacement refs on the field has proven it to be anything but. It’s tough. Skirmishes between plays have become a common sight in the season’s first two weeks; at one point during the Monday night game in Atlanta, both the Bronco and Falcon benches cleared in what threatened to become a baseball-style brawl. We’d see a lot less of such behavior under the union refs, who are used to players and coaches yelling in their faces and threatening to get physical. They aren’t afraid of it; the replacements are.
What’s more, NFL referees spend years training before they take the field, and spend major chunks of their offseasons studying up on new rules, watching game film, and training (just like the players and coaches). “These professional game officials — noted until this season by the NFL as being 'the best in sports,' have spent years honing their skills, just like the athletes starring on the field,” Millis writes.