How much do referees get paid?


It’s a profession in which details about salary and pay structure are often shrouded in secrecy.

However, The Athletic has obtained a breakdown of the wages, fees and bonuses for officials in Europe’s top five leagues and Major League Soccer, which has been cross-checked with the respective competitions and converted into British pounds at current exchange rates.

Referees in Spain’s top flight are the best paid on average but officials in England have the potential to earn the highest annual salary.

In La Liga, referees command a fixed £124,256 ($157,115) salary and receive an additional £4,205 match fee, or £2,102 per game if they are the VAR referee. Officials in Spain are also paid an extra £21,929 a year for image rights, which relates to wearing advertising by the Wurth Group on their kits.

Referees in the Premier League are, however, paid on a sliding scale between £73,191, £105,257 and £147,258 depending on their level of experience and rank. Their match fee works out at £1,116 per game, or £837 for working as the video assistant referee.

Premier League referees also receive a bonus based on the quality of their performance and how many ‘key match incidents’ they get right.

Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the body that oversees the development and appointments of officials across the English game, said it could not comment on specific salary figures.

Referees in MLS earn a similar salary to the top European leagues following the resolution of the pay dispute that saw officials locked out for the start of the new season. Referees in Italy’s Serie A are the next-best numerated, with Germany’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 behind them.


When asked about that sizeable salary for referees in Spain, Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez, a former international official, said, “We have only been the best paid for six years. We used to be sixth or seventh. It’s a struggle we started a long, long time ago.

“Before, in my time, we had to have another job. Now there is more professionalism and dedication. Now referees live and think about refereeing 24 hours a day.”


In England, there are 20 full-time professional Select Group One (SG1) referees, an elite team who officiate Premier League matches. At the top of the tree are the SG1 referees in the UEFA Elite referee category — including Anthony Taylor and Michael Oliver — who receive extra income for officiating European and international matches.

They are employed by the PGMOL, which is headed up by Howard Webb, who refereed the finals of the Champions League and the World Cup in 2010. He replaced Mike Riley in December 2022.

Below them, there are 22 Select Group 2 (SG2) referees, who mainly look after the Championship, as well as occasional League One and League Two matches. Their pay is broadly similar to that of a referee newly promoted to officiate top-flight games and they also receive a match fee on top of that.

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Recently, there has been greater movement between the levels, with Rebecca Welch among the SG2 officials stepping up to the Premier League this season, becoming the first female official to take a top-flight game in England when appointed to take charge of Fulham against Burnley in December.

Finally, there is the National Group — referees who look after League One and League Two matches. They typically have another job and get paid a flat fee for officiating a game, as well as receiving travel and mileage expenses.

PGMOL was first introduced in 2001 when referees in England turned professional. At that time, officials were paid a basic salary of £35,000 plus match fees. As former referee Keith Hackett told the Guardian: “You had several guys who were always eating fast food suddenly eating at Michelin-starred restaurants.”

This move to professionalism coincided with an increase in standards, with referees now following strict fitness programmes, attending two-day group training sessions every fortnight, working with sports scientists and getting detailed feedback on their performance in games.

The subject of pay was then brought into focus in 2017 when Mark Clattenburg, now a referee analyst at Nottingham Forest and officiating on the British game show Gladiators, quit his role as a Premier League referee to take up a senior position in Saudi Arabia. In his book, Whistle Blower, he recalled: “I knew the money in Saudi could set me up for life”, saying it was “life-changing — £525,000 a year, tax-free”.

Referee


Clattenburg oversees a Premier League match in April 2017 (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

He added: “In the Premier League, I was earning £100,000 plus bonuses, which came to around £30,000, all of which went into my pension. To put that into context, one year in Saudi would be the equivalent of around eight in the Premier League.”

Oliver earned around £3,000 to officiate a league fixture between Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr and Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia in April last year. He also took charge of a match in the United Arab Emirates between Sharjah and Al-Ain in September — with Stuart Burt and Dan Cook as assistants and Darren England as VAR. This later came under scrutiny as it was revealed that game came just 48 hours before the latter pair’s “significant human error” in disallowing Luis Diaz’s goal for Liverpool against Tottenham Hotspur.


In Germany, there’s also a difference in referees’ annual salary depending on experience and level, but officials in the Bundesliga are paid less.

Referees with fewer than five years’ experience receive £52,977, climbing to £61,522 when they pass that threshold, with elite referees receiving a £70,067 salary. On top of that, their match fee per Bundesliga game is £4,784, with VARs getting £1,794. An official’s match fee in 2.Bundesliga, the second tier, is £2,392. Their severance fee is up to two annual salaries but there are no extra bonuses for performance.

In Serie A, referees are paid a salary of £76,954 to £77,345, with a £3,420 to £3,437 match fee. The match fee for a VAR is between £1,453 and £1,461.

Guendouzi


Referee Marco Di Bello shows Matteo Guendouzi a red card (Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Ligue 1 officials in France are paid £66,716 to £67,058, with a match fee of £2,865 to £2,880. A match fee for VAR is £855 to £859. In France, the retirement severance package is between £8,500 and £51,000, depending on status and age.

In France, officiating is facing particular scrutiny at the moment. There has been a breakdown of trust between Ligue 1 clubs and officials, with several clubs publicly questioning decisions and the application of the VAR system. Internally, there have been tensions too.

Stephane Lannoy — the head of the game’s professional referees — has left the French Football Federation (FFF) and Anthony Gautier, who is the FFF’s technical director for refereeing and has taken over Lannoy’s responsibilities, has come under fire, with 17 out of 18 top flight clubs issuing a joint statement last month demanding his removal because “dialogue and trust are definitively broken”. Refereeing standards will remain a contested topic for the rest of the campaign.


Referees in MLS are much better paid than they were just a month ago. That is due to a new contract between the labour union that represents the referees (the PSRA) and the MLS-funded company that assigns and trains them (PRO) increasing pay and benefits for the U.S.’ top officials.

The road to that contract was fraught, with the union and league engaging in federally-mediated negotiations. Both sides accused the other of unfair labour practices and eventually PRO locked its own officials out, leading to MLS playing the first four weeks of its season using so-called “replacement referees”, temporary refs brought in from abroad and from the American lower divisions. Those officials performed admirably but also operated at a demonstrably lower standard than MLS full-timers, much to the chagrin of MLS players and coaches. The full-time referees are back on the pitch after the contract was agreed before last weekend’s matches.

Messi


‘Replacement ref’ Gabriele Ciampi talks with Lionel Messi (Michael Janosz/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

An MLS official initially starts at a lower pay grade, classified as a “probationary” referee for their first two years working in the league. A probationary referee, under the terms of the new contract between the referees union and the league, makes a salary of about $85,000 (£67,568) in 2024. Centre referees, assistant referees, fourth officials and VAR officials also receive match fees ranging from $550 for video officials to $1,500 for the referee and assistant referee.

Non-probationary referees, who comprise the bulk of MLS officiating crews, are paid higher than their junior counterparts and are compensated on a sliding scale based on the number of matches they’ve officiated in their MLS career. A senior centre referee, for example, will now make anywhere between $125,000-$165,000.

That number includes a guarantee of 15 match fees, which the referee keeps even if they are injured or unable to officiate that many games. If they oversee more than 15 matches — many do — their total earnings go up. The new contract between the league and its referees also provides for pay increases on a year-by-year basis. By the time the contract runs out in 2030, the senior ref who was making $165,000 in 2024 will be making $211,000.

While officials in England and Germany have some measure of security in the form of severance, the most senior officials in MLS are given a maximum of six months’ severance pay, while less experienced officials get even less.

Additional contributors: Guillermo Rai, Peter Rutzler and Raphael Honigstein

(Top photo: Referee Tony Harrington awards a penalty to Everton against Newcastle United on April 2. Lee Parker/CameraSport via Getty Images)





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