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How Much Do Soccer Referees Make?

Referees play a vital role in any soccer match. Even though higher soccer levels are now counting on technology to help make calls from time to time, the most critical calls in a match still come down to human decisions. Referees can impact how a match ultimately ends up, but do these referees make enough money to justify the job’s stress?

How much do soccer referees make? At the lowest level, referees can make a little over a minimum wage for recreational and kids matches. At the professional levels, seasoned referees can come close to making the equivalent of $100,000 by doing matches in top European leagues, the Champions League, major cups, the Olympics, and the World Cup.

Amateur Referee Opportunities

Soccer is played at all levels, which means that referees are always in demand to a certain degree. At the lowest level, most look at it as a side hustle. They might make anywhere from minimum wage to $25 per hour if it is a lower-tier match. Those who enjoy the game or are younger and looking for extra income will generally jump on these opportunities.

The good thing about these lower-level refereeing opportunities is that a person does not necessarily have to have an official license to call the match in some cases. As long as they have a basic understanding of how the game goes and can keep things as fair as possible, it is better than having no referee at all.

Those interested in refereeing beyond this level should start going through the training and certification process to open up opportunities. Even if a world-class soccer player wanted to become a referee, they would still need to become certified to land a job beyond the very lowest of levels. Training is a bit of an investment, but it opens up better earning opportunities.

Competitive Youth Leagues, High School Matches & More

At this level, leagues are looking for true referees to take a job. They need a proper license in the area, and they usually apply for different gigs in a region. A particular club or school might use a set of referees as their primary choice, which gives them a bit more stability throughout a season.

Pay is up a little bit here, but not as much as some might think. It is rare to see the pricing go up beyond $35 an hour, which means that most will make less than $70 per match.

The most challenging part about refereeing at this level is that the pay is not that great for a lot of stressed-out players, coaches and families. It might not be the highest level of play by any means, but there are still many people trying to make it to the next level. Matches can get intense in that regard, and referees tend to burn out at this level.

College & Low-Level Professional Referees

Most college and low-level professional referees still need to treat refereeing as a part-time job. The money is just not there at this level, and part of that has to do with the season’s length. Even during the middle of the year, there might only be a few opportunities a week to call a game. Referees might only make a few hundred dollars each week if that is the case, which is not enough to withstand a typical lifestyle.

This is once again a very high-stress job opportunity as well, as many players feel like they are just one or two breaks away from making it themselves. College players are still amateurs, but the best ones have professional aspirations. For low-level pros, they would love to break through and land their own lucrative contract.

The best refereeing opportunities at this level are in feeder systems to the high-paying opportunities. The best referees at this level receive recognition if they put in the work.

High-Level Domestic Leagues & International Club Competitions

Making it as a referee in one of the top leagues around the world is the goal for any person who pursues this career path. It is a great situation to be in, as some of the leagues pay pretty well. As one example, the Premier League ends up paying their referees anywhere from 75,000 to 100,000 pounds annually.

The Premier League offers a payment structure that is a bit different than any other of the top leagues. Referees will get a retainer each year that pays them a set amount of money and benefits. Then, they receive payment for each match that they call, based on experience. What ends up happening is that the price per match is a little lower than La Liga, Bundesliga, and other top leagues worldwide, but they still make roughly the same in the end.

The pay for assistant referees is greatly reduced, usually half of what the head referee makes. However, in some cases, such as in Spain, an assistant referee only makes a third of what the head referee makes.

At the highest level, some referees still find other jobs during the offseason, but most of them are doing this full-time. It takes years for referees to build up to these leagues, and the spots are highly coveted. Once referees make it, they are constantly evaluated to ensure that they live up to the high standards.

World Cup Referees

Since the World Cup is considered the premier event in soccer, it makes sense that it is the pinnacle of success for referees as well. Every referee would love to have an opportunity to participate in the soccer tournament that happens every four years.

To qualify, referees must be at least 25 years old, and must have a FIFA referee Grade 1. Making it to the highest level is extremely challenging, as currently there are less than 10 in the United States who even qualify at the highest grade. Competition to be one of the world’s best referees is extremely challenging, as FIFA likes to pull from different countries to have a variety of talent.

The payoff is pretty nice, as World Cup referees are paid exceptionally well. In the most recent World Cups, referees have been paid $50,000 or more for the entire tournament. They also get full accommodations, not to mention other benefits while spending a few weeks at the World Cup.

Tough Requirements To Reach The Highest Paying Referee Jobs

Soccer referees must be in great shape to keep up with the level of play. At the professional level, it is very rare to see any referees over the age of 50. FIFA officials have to be 45 years of age or under before they must retire.

Some of the top leagues will also make sure that soccer referees can pass physical fitness tests and keep their body fat percentage under a certain level. This is all part of the process to make sure that they can withstand the rigors of a full match.

In some domestic leagues, referees must speak certain languages to call games. This helps with communication between the players/coaches, and referees. Most World Cup and international matches try to have various languages covered between all of the referees.

Is It Ultimately Worth Refereeing In Soccer?

Like any job, there are pros and cons to being a soccer referee. Just about every person gets into it due to being passionate about the game of soccer. It might be a side hustle only, but others want to make it to the highest level possible. If you are interested in how to become a soccer referee, I listed all the steps in this post.

Referees must have thin skin, as they are constantly blamed for any calls that can come off as controversial. However, getting a chance to stay involved in sports comes off as the perfect job for some, as there is never a shortage of new referees looking to jump into everything.