The life of a football referee is unique. Clearly passionate football people who have dedicated their life to the most important aspect of the game, making sure it’s played fairly. Often not people who played at the highest level, being a referee takes a different skill set. So why then do fans, pundits and players alike seem to hate them so much? Surely we should be celebrating the very fact anyone wants to do the job? At least in the era of professional match officials, referee’s get paid a decent wage to stand in the middle and make the big calls.
How much do football referees get paid? In the major European Soccer Leagues football referees are paid a yearly salary and then a match fee bolted on for every time they take charge of a match. This match fee will vary depending on their role as the lead Referee, Referees Assistant, VAR official or the 4th official. The annual salary and the match fee will also vary based on the league they are employed by. It is estimated that the highest paid football officials in the world are from La Liga in Spain, where they can earn an average of around $275,000 (£220,000, €250,000) per year.
Like in all industries there is no flat rate for football referees. The amount they can command in salary and match fees will vary based on their experience, performance and the competitions they officiate. The top domestic referees in Europe get called up for the UEFA matches, with the big prize the UEFA Champions League. Below we look at the major leagues football referee salaries.
|Average Football Referee Salaries: Top 5 European Leagues|
|Category||Monthly Salary||Lead Official Match Fee||Assistants & VAR Match Fee||Estimated Average Annual Salary|
|English Premier League||£3,250||£1,100||£900||£96,000|
|Spanish La Liga||£10,978||£3,688||£1,844||£220,000|
|French Ligue 1||£5,268||£2,545||£790||£105,286|
|Italian Serie A||£4,500||£2,985||£1,317||£122,905|
|All numbers are an average estimated from data sources accurate in 2023|
Referee salaries in the English Premier League
- Average Monthly: €3,700 (£3,250)
- Lead Official Per game: €1,300 (£1,100)
- Assistants & VAR Per game: €1,000 (£900)
In the English Premier League the average referee annual salary works out at around €110,000 (£96,000). Some officials may exceed that figure due to their experience and performance rating, whereas some will come in below the average. This is not just because of the rate of pay they can command, but because of the amount of games they may be assigned to. The most experienced officials in the EPL can take charge of around 28 games in a season. England is the most fixture heavy football nation, with 20 teams in the top flight and 2 domestic cup competitions available. In addition England will supply many referees into UEFA for Champions League, Europa League and Europa conference fixtures where officials can top up their salary even further with large match fees. Top flight football officials in England have been professional since 2001, one of the earliest UEFA members to reward their officials with full time employment.
Referee salaries in Spain’s La Liga
- Average Monthly: €12,500 (£10,978)
- Lead Official Per game: €4,200 (£3,688)
- Assistants & VAR: €2,100 (£1,844)
The match officials in Spain’s La Liga have the highest average annual salary in the world at around €250,000 (£220,000). This is based on an average of 20 matches as the lead official.
La Liga match officials only turned pro in 2020 and partly as a result of this they are by far the highest earning football officials in the world. On average they earn around twice the amount of Premier League referees.
Referee salaries in Germany’s Bundesliga
- Average Monthly: €2,500, €4,000 or €6,000 (£2,194, £3,511 or £5,268)
- Lead Official Per game: €3,600 (£3,159)
- Assistants & VAR: €1,100 (£965)
The German Bundesliga officials also earn more than those in the lucrative English Premier League. Coming in with an estimated average annual salary of €125,000 (£109,679). In the Bundesliga rules are in place so that no referee will exceed 20 matches as the lead official. There are three specific wage tiers for referees in the German top division. Monthly wages will either be €2,500, €4,000 or €6,000 (£2,194, £3,511 or £5,268) based on experience and performance.
Referee salaries in Frances Ligue 1
- Average Monthly: €6,000 (£5,268)
- Lead Official Per game: €2,900 (£2,545)
- Assistant & VAR: €900 (£790)
Home of the mega rich PSG the French Ligue 1 has always been the smaller of the top European football leagues, the average annual salary for French Ligue 1 referees is €120,000 (£105,286). This is on par with what English Premier League referees take home. Like the other European Leagues officials are paid based on their experience and performance levels. There are no restrictions on how many matches Ligue 1 officials can take charge of, however it usually works out to be around 24 domestic games a season.
Referee salaries in Italy’s Serie A
- Average Monthly: €3,900-€6,500 (£3,422-£5,703)
- Lead Official Per game: €3,400 (£2,985)
- Assistants & VAR: €1,500 (£1,317)
Historically one of the strongest leagues in Europe, the average annual salary for Italian Serie A comes in at around €140,000 (£122,905). Italian Referees officiate an average of 15 or 16 domestic matches which is low compared to other top European Leagues.
There are many other domestic leagues within UEFA. These all have their own ways of rewarding their match officials for domestic fixtures..
What do referees get paid for UEFA competitions?
UEFA sets its referee pool up in tiers, based on years of experience and performance rating. The below table breaks down approximately what each tier of referee will get paid per match. This is regardless of what competitions, UCL, Conference League or Conference League they get assigned to. UEFA will assign the more junior referee’s to the Conference League and the more experienced to the Champions League. As the competition progresses from group stage, to knockouts and to the Final, the referee’s salary doesn’t increase, but the level of referee assigned to the fixture will be higher.
|UEFA 2023-24 Competitions Referee and Officials Match Fees|
|Category||Match Referee||Assistant Referee||VAR||Fourth Umpire|
|UEFA Champions League, Europa League & Conference League|
Referee’s for all UEFA competitions are drawn from its member states. Their salary is based purely on their UEFA category and not their home nation.
What leagues have an age limit for referees?
After Referees started turning professional in the 21st century leagues started to come up against employment law. Prior to referee’s being full time employees they were subject to maximum ages, after which they had to retire from refereeing. However, most countries have employment laws that prevent job discrimination based on age, instead it must be based on performance.
Germany is the last hold out, with its current retirement age for it’s Bundesliga officials being 47. Currently under challenge in the courts, it is soon to be abolished.
Going forward any football league will find it almost impossible to have a maximum age for their officials, instead having to base these decision purely on each officials physical and in match performance.