For many sports fans, refereeing is a thankless job that often attracts criticism and blame. But have you ever stopped to wonder how much NHL referees make?
The National Hockey League (NHL) relies on referees to ensure the fairness and safety of every game. They are entrusted with making difficult calls in real-time, interpreting the rules correctly, and navigating the intense emotions of both players and coaches.
But just like any other profession, being an NHL referee comes with a salary. It’s a question that pops up frequently particularly when the playoffs roll around and tensions rise on the ice.
“Referees aren’t perfect; it’s impossible for them to be. But a good referee knows how to control their biases and do the best they can to make fair decisions.” -Anonymous
If you’re curious about the life of an NHL referee beyond the whistle, then this article is for you. Let’s explore more about what makes up an NHL referee’s income and whether it’s worth getting into the field for.
Salary Range of NHL Referees
If you’ve ever wondered “how much does an NHL referee make?” the answer is not quite as straightforward as you might expect. According to reports, entry-level officials earn a lower salary than their more seasoned colleagues.
Entry-Level Referee Salaries
Newly hired NHL referees will typically see a starting salary range between $115,000-$350,000 for regular season games. The exact amount ranges based on experience levels and position classification within the league. Based on sources from 2020-2021 NHL season, USA and Canadian referees earned around $150,000 – $400,000 while working full-time during any given year and they can easily touch base with six figures in just one season or two depending upon tenure. Officials that perform amateur games are typically paid less per game at he elementary level, $45-$120/game and goes up to $200-$550 at high school level.
Becoming an NHL official is no easy task. Getting started requires years of practice working smaller leagues and building credibility among coaches, players, and fans alike. Once you do become part of the officiating team, however, you’ll be able to enjoy travel benefits like first class flight arrangements, hotel accommodations, tax accounting assistance, pension plans and health/dental insurance coverage.
Senior-Level Referee Salaries
The longer you stay active in your role as an NHL referee, the more money you’re likely to make as well. Experienced officials who have been working in the league for several years now report earning around $600,000 – $950,000 annually. Instructors and supervisory personnel associated with the highest echelons of the league regularly take-home anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 every season through the NHL Officiating Department.
Not only do referees get paid, but they also have a chance of earning bonuses worth thousands of dollars if they officiate in playoff games or All-star events. Moreover, every referee gets to keep his/her own jersey that is provided by NHL upon joining in as well as skates that are sent out for sharpening and repair on regular basis throughout their tenure.
Salary Differences Between Referees and Linesmen
It’s also important to note that there is a difference in pay between officials who serve as refs versus those who take on linesman roles during the game. The general consensus is that referees make more money than linemen within the NHL — though this isn’t always the case at lower levels like junior leagues and amateur play. In fact, reports indicate that referees tend to be the highest-paid employees among sports organizations with similarly salaried individuals employed by MLB, NBA and NFL etc.
“The better an official you are, the higher compensation you can receive.” -Dave Newell, former NHL referee (source)
At the end of the day, while working as an NHL official may be demanding in terms of workload and performance expectations, it also pays off significantly in financial rewards for successive years, allowing members of the NHL’s elite officiating team to enjoy comfortable lifestyles and fulfilling careers.
Factors Affecting NHL Referee Salary
Experience and Tenure
The salary of an NHL referee is closely linked to their experience in the job. According to the NHL Officials’ Association, referees start with annual salaries that range from $165,000 to $360,000 depending on the number of years they have been working in the league. For instance, a novice official earns the lowest amount while one who has worked for 25 years in the NHL earns the highest salary.
Furthermore, other factors such as the number of games an NHL referee works can affect their yearly earnings. For example, referees are paid per game during the regular season and can earn extra money when assigned to work playoff games. Between four and seven officials are typically employed during each game; two referees and two or three linesmen. The National Hockey League has strict standards for these positions, regardless of seniority or experience, so those who have been working longer may not necessarily receive better placements on the ice.
Performance and Evaluations
In addition to experience and tenure, NHL referees’ pay also reflects their performance and evaluations by the league’s officiating administration. Skilled referees often move up faster through the system, allowing them to earn higher wages. On the other hand, poor performers may fall behind their colleagues in terms of salary increases and be demoted to lower levels of play.
To maintain competent and consistent officiating, the NHL evaluates every referee’s performance annually based on metrics like accuracy of calls, positioning on the ice, communication skills, consistency in enforcing rules, among others. These evaluations determine whether a referee qualifies for advancement or should remain at their current level. Those who show promise may be offered mentorship opportunities under more experienced officials. Every referee receives extensive feedback about their performance, which helps guide their improvement over the coming year.
Referees are also evaluated through video surveillance. The NHL’s Video Room creates an extensive library of games, from which game supervisors identify key errors that need reinforcement with referees and linesmen. Every incident is reviewed by a team made up of managers, former players, ex-referees and league officials who ensure consistency in officiating practice across all games.
“Successful officials work to maintain excellent positioning on the ice, communication, play calling and familiarization with teams’ unique styles, as well as having the intangibles like confidence, knowledge and respect.”
Theo Fleury once said this of any quality referee in an interview with John Grigg Media Group. After retiring as a professional hockey player in 2005, Fleury became a spokesperson for the National Association for Sexual Abuse Survivors where he shared his story as a survivor of sexual abuse suffered at the hands of the coach who ruined his life. Theo turned to refereeing shortly after retiring, consequently so he could reconnect with the sport again but not endure some of what comes along with being a pro athlete.
Comparison of NHL Referee Salary to Other Sports Officials
The National Hockey League (NHL) is known for its high-speed action and physicality, but often overlooked are the referees who keep the game safe and fair. Fans may wonder how much a referee can make in such an exciting sport. In this article, we compare the salaries of NHL referees with other sports officials.
Salary Comparison to NBA and MLB Umpires
NBA and MLB umpires work fewer games than NHL referees, and their salary reflects that. According to Business Insider, NBA officials earn between $375,000 and $550,000 annually, while MLB umpires make between $235,000 to $340,000 per year. Compared to NHL refs, they fall behind by a considerable margin.
The average annual salary for NHL referees is around $200,000, as stated by Working Reporter. The same source goes on to mention that the entry-level pay grade for referees is roughly $115,000 annually.
Salary Comparison to NFL and College Football Referees
Average annual income for National Football League (NFL) referees lies between $25,000 to $70,000 according to Chron, making it significantly lower than NHL officials. On the other hand, college football referees fare slightly better, earning roughly $3000 – $5000 depending on experience per game. While this pay may seem low compared to NHL referees, college football officials are more likely to work part-time and balance their careers alongside other jobs.
It is important to note that these salaries do not account for overtime pay or playoff bonuses which can augment the amount significantly. For example, during the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs, it was reported by ESPN that some of the top-performing officials made up to $15,000 per round.
“I think a good referee has an ability to communicate with coaches and players to make them understand what’s going on on the ice” -Terry Gregson
While NHL referees earn less than some umpires in other leagues, they still have a considerable income. With hefty payouts available during the playoffs, the salary of NHL referees shows room for growth. The job requires significant physical endurance as well as sharp decision-making skills, making it one of the most challenging positions in sports officiating today. Good communication skills are also paramount to keep everyone involved in the game informed.
How Much Do NHL Referees Make During the Playoffs?
The National Hockey League playoffs are a time of excitement and energy, not just for players and fans, but also for officials. As the stakes get higher, it’s natural to wonder how much referees make during the postseason.
Playoff Bonus Structure for Referees
According to reports from the NHL Officials’ Association, NHL referees can expect to receive an additional payment on top of their regular salary during playoff games. This bonus structure is based on a percentage of each match’s total revenue, and is divided up among all the officials present on the ice.
In 2021, the bonus structure looks like this:
- First round: Each official receives $20,000
- Second round: Each official receives $21,500
- Third round: Each official receives $25,000
- Stanley Cup Finals: Each official receives $30,000
This means that if a referee worked every game in the playoffs and participated in each round, they would earn a total of $96,500 in bonuses alone. Keep in mind that these numbers only reflect the totals for referees – other types of officials, such as linesmen and video review staff, have their own compensation structures.
Comparison of Playoff Pay to Regular Season Pay
To understand why playoff bonuses are so exciting for NHL referees, consider their base salaries compared to what they might earn during the postseason. According to data collected by Glassdoor, the average salary for an NHL referee ranges between approximately $110,000 and $255,000 per year, depending on experience level and other factors.
If a referee were making the absolute minimum salary of $110,000 per year, they would potentially earn almost double their annual pay just by working during the playoffs. Even referees who are on the higher end of the scale for regular season salaries can see a significant bump in income during this time.
It’s worth noting that NHL referees only work approximately 70-80 games per regular season, so each game has a greater financial impact than it might for someone with a similar salary working full-time year-round. This dynamic may be part of what makes playoff bonuses such an attractive incentive.
Impact of Playoff Success on Referee Salaries
Beyond the temporary boost to earnings provided by postseason work, success as a referee during the playoffs could also have long-term impacts on salary and career opportunities. Former referee Kerry Fraser noted that consistently strong performances in high-pressure situations like the playoffs could help officials move up the ranks or secure more lucrative contracts over time.
“Playoff experience is viewed as most important,” Fraser stated in a Q&A interview with The Athletic. “These referees have already demonstrated their ability to handle pressure-packed games”.
This sentiment was echoed by current NHL linesman Steve Miller, who explained that while playoff bonuses are certainly appreciated, there’s also a sense of pride associated with being chosen to officiate at that level:
“Those assignments mean the world to me and mean a lot to my family,” said Miller in a separate interview with The Athletic. “Obviously the bonus money is nice but these big events and great experiences are things I will never forget.”
NHL referees’ compensation structures provide ample incentive for officials to perform well both during the regular season and the playoffs. While specific figures vary based on location and other factors, participants can generally expect to receive generous compensation for their work on the ice.
Tips for Becoming an NHL Referee
Attend Officiating Camps and Clinics
If you want to become an NHL referee, attending officiating camps and clinics is a must. These events provide aspiring referees with the chance to learn new skills, refine their existing ones, meet other officials and be evaluated by experienced professionals.
The National Hockey League hosts many programs designed to help prospective officials break into the industry. Their Development Camps are open to anyone over the age of 18 who has at least two years of experience working in hockey as a referee, linesman or both. The goal of these camps is to enhance participants’ abilities and give them exposure to professional leagues.
“In my opinion, every official should go to the NHL camp,” says long-time NHL referee Don Van Massenhoven in an interview with USA Hockey Magazine. “It’s the best opportunity there is for getting better.”
Gain Experience Through Local Leagues and Tournaments
Gaining on-ice experience through local leagues and tournaments is essential for those who aspire to become NHL refs. A great way to get started is to inquire with your local minor hockey association about opportunities to volunteer as an official. This will allow you to gain confidence and improve your knowledge of the game while working regular shifts alongside experienced officials who can offer you guidance and feedback.
After gaining some experience, consider joining organizations such as USA Hockey or Hockey Canada. These groups offer high-level training seminars, rules tests and certification programs that can help fast-track your development as a referee.
Another option is to participate in junior and amateur tournaments where scouts from major hockey organizations go to recruit up-and-coming referees. Working these games provides excellent networking opportunities and helps establish credibility among members of the hockey community.
“Get involved with the game – be an official,” says former NHL referee Kerry Fraser in an article for USA Hockey Magazine. “Just as every coach had to start somewhere, so too did every successful on-ice official.”
While it can take years of dedication and focus to become a full-time NHL referee, attending camps, gaining experience through local leagues and tournaments and networking within the hockey community can greatly improve your chances of achieving this goal.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the average salary for an NHL referee?
The average salary for an NHL referee is approximately $200,000 per year. This includes both regular season and playoff games, as well as any additional responsibilities such as All-Star games or outdoor games.
How much experience do you need to become an NHL referee?
To become an NHL referee, you typically need several years of experience officiating at lower levels of hockey. This includes working your way up through junior leagues, minor leagues, and eventually the American Hockey League (AHL) before being considered for the NHL.
Do NHL referees receive any additional benefits besides their salary?
Yes, NHL referees receive a number of additional benefits besides their salary. These may include travel expenses, medical insurance, and a pension plan. Additionally, referees may receive bonuses for working important games such as the Stanley Cup Finals.
What factors determine an NHL referee’s salary?
Several factors can determine an NHL referee’s salary, including their level of experience, their performance on the ice, and the overall demand for referees in the league. Referees who work more games or who are assigned to more high-profile games may also earn higher salaries.
Are NHL referees paid differently for regular season games versus playoff games?
No, NHL referees are typically paid the same rate for both regular season and playoff games. However, referees who work playoff games may receive bonuses or other incentives for their performance during these important games.
How has the salary for NHL referees changed over the years?
The salary for NHL referees has increased steadily over the past few decades, reflecting the growing popularity and profitability of the sport. In the 1980s, referees earned an average of around $50,000 per year, while today they earn around four times that amount.