Sarah Thomas’ Salary: How Much Money Does a Super Bowl Ref Make?

Sarah Thomas ref

Getty Line Judge Sarah Thomas #53 looks on before the Houston Texans play the Kansas City Chiefs in a NFL game on September 13, 2015, at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Down judge Sarah Thomas is making NFL history as the first woman to ever officiate a Super Bowl. But along with that, she and the rest of her crewmates, who include umpire Fred Bryan, line judge Rusty Baynes, field judge James Coleman, side judge Eugene Hall, back judge Dino Paganelli and replay official Mike Wimmer, are set for a huge pay bump on February 7.

NFL referees are estimated to make $205,000 a year, FanDuel reported in 2019. If that estimate is correct, that means refs make an average of $12,058 per game during the NFL’s 17-week regular season, or $9,762 per week for a 21-week season.

While the salaries of referees come under fire often when fans, players or coaches believe a call is incorrect, according to NFL Football Operations, only 39% of calls have been overturned since 1999 and 98.9% of rulings have been made without instant replay reviews.

GettyNFL Down Judge Sarah Thomas talks with Doug Baldwin #89 of the Seattle Seahawks on the field before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field on December 30, 2018.

NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Alberto Riveron shut down the assumption that refs are overpaid because they only work one day a week during a quarter of the year, per the NFL’s Operations website.

“Officials do not get to a game site on Saturday, have a nice dinner and then wake up and work the game,” said Riveron. “If you don’t prepare 30 to 35 hours a week for those three hours on Sunday, then you cannot do your job effectively and you will not survive in the National Football League.”

Refs also need to stay on top of their game during the off-season. The NFL Football Operations official website states, “Officials go to organized team activities (OTAs), minicamps and training camps, where they officiate practices and call preseason games to get into regular-season form. They prepare for these games as they would for the regular season, and they are evaluated the same way.”

NFL Referees Receive a Large Bonus for Officiating the Super Bowl

Sarah Thomas salary

GettyNFL Down Judge Sarah Thomas looks on in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2019.

Not all games are of equal importance, obviously, and the same way athletes and coaches get bonuses when they make it to the Super Bowl, the officiating staff also receives a pay bump.

However, unlike players and staff, the NFL has never revealed exactly how much more money refs make on Super Bowl Sunday. In 2001, The Washington Post reported that the officiating crew members received an $11,900 bonus for working the Super Bowl, which, according to Money, would now equate to an estimated bonus between $30,000 to $50,000.

Money points to the likely average Super Bowl bonus being close to $40,000 as of 2018, based on the bonus-to-salary proportions in the past.

NFL Declined the Option to Reinstate Full-Time Referees – a Huge Blow to League’s Officiating Staff

GettyDown judge Sarah Thomas #53 during an NFL game between the Las Vegas Raiders and the New Orleans Saints in 2020.

The NFL delivered a huge blow when it decided referees could only be part-time employees, leaving the league’s officiating staff without the benefits that come with having a full-time job, ESPN reported in August 2020.

The NFL had a full-time program for officiating staff in 2017 and 2018, according to ESPN, “but shelved it for the 2019 season while negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Referees Association.” In fall 2019, the NFL Referees Association signed a new deal that provided their 119 members with salaries that matched those of full-time officials in other professional sports leagues.

Funds are also automatically deposited into pension plans for NFL officials “through the 2016 season or 20 years of service,” after which the NFL provides an $18,000 annual contribution and a partial match to employee contributions to a 401(k) plan, Money reported.

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