It’s easy to forget about them while you’re watching your favorite team on TV but hockey referees are some of the most essential people on the ice.
At the professional level, it’s already a pretty chaotic and aggressive sport so could you imagine what it would be like if there were no refs there to keep things (somewhat) controlled?
With such a difficult job of keeping huge hockey players under control, you’d expect the salary of a referee to be pretty high.
Well, according to Comparably, the average salary for NHL referees is around $75,000. This puts them well above the average salary in the US but they obviously still earn a lot less than the players at this level.
There are quite a few different factors that can affect how much a hockey ref earns, too. Let’s take a look at some of them:
How do referees go pro?
Obviously, not all hockey refs in the world will be earning as much as the pros. There’s a pretty tough system in place in the US that determines how and when a referee can earn these lucrative salaries.
First, a ref needs to be certified as an official either in the USA Hockey League or the Canada Hockey League. Then, they have to gain plenty of experience and prove themselves on the ice.
The National Hockey League Officials Association (NHLOA) will only consider referees that already have exceptional skills and knowledge in positioning, signalling and skating for the step up.
Once selected, a referee enters an official NHLOA training school and can work towards being selected for the NHL roster. Contracts are then normally worked out between referees and the NHL based on their skills and experience.
How do referees get paid?
All professional referees in the US will be paid a salary by the NHL. This is a set salary that will often be determined in a contract before the start of a season.
It doesn’t matter how many games the ref is asked to officiate on or whether they get injured during the season and have to miss a few weeks, they’ll still be paid that salary.
At the lower levels, there’s a lot less support and security for referees. As with pretty much all sports at an amateur level, officials are paid per game.
Most amateur officials would be lucky to make more than $50 per game, however, this isn’t an issue for them because they don’t do it professionally and most go into officiating because of their love for the game.
This fee per match is paid either by the league organizers or the teams themselves, though this system differs between amateur leagues across the country.
How much do the best referees earn?
The figure we looked at earlier: $75,000, is an average salary for all the refs that are certified by the NHL. However, the top pros who officiate in the biggest games in the country will earn a whole lot more than that.
It’s estimated that top NHL refs can earn $165,000-$400,000 in a single year! That might seem like a huge amount of money for the same job amateurs do for $50 per game but there are big differences at the highest level.
The amount of pressure on refs at this level is immense and it takes a huge toll on the mental health of a lot of officials.
Also, given that these games are televised and broadcast across the world, upset fans can easily have their say on a referee’s performance if they see them out in public, too. It’s not an easy job by any means, so it makes sense that these refs should earn a good salary.
Do linesmen earn the same amount as referees?
As most hockey fans know, the officiating team isn’t made up of just one referee. In fact, in professional NHL games, there will always be two referees on the ice, accompanied by two linesmen.
Linesmen have slightly less authority over the game and fewer responsibilities than the referees, though they are the ones who have to break up fights between players! Even with that unfortunate job to do, linesmen earn a little less than referees.
If we look at the minimum salary for top referees of $165,000, the minimum for the best linesmen in the league is around $110,000. As you can tell, you can still earn a very respectable salary from any kind of officiating professionally in the NHL, just not as much for being a linesman.
Do referees earn the same amount as players?
Unsurprisingly, NHL referees do not earn as much as most players. According to Gaimday, the average NHL player salary for the 2020/21 season was around $2.5 million. Even the highest ranking officials in the league won’t earn one fifth of that amount!
Interestingly though, referees at an amateur level will often earn more than the players. That’s because in this case, players will be paying towards the fee for the referee and the use of equipment and ice rinks.
It’s still not a lucrative amount for these refs but it’s interesting to think about.
Do NHL referees get paid more than other sports?
Let’s compare the average salary for NHL refs to other sports in the US. Let’s assume the top pro refs earn around $280,000. The same average in the NBA is $250,000, for MLB it’s $235,000 and it’s roughly $205,000 for the NFL.
As you can tell, hockey refs seemingly get paid a slightly higher average salary than the other most popular sports in the US. However, these figures are only based on estimates and this will not be the case between every referee in each sport.
If you were thinking about becoming a hockey referee and wondered if there’s any financial reason to, now you know: there definitely is!
Referees in the NHL can earn way more than in any other regular job and there are hundreds of refs across the country competing for these lucrative jobs.
If you keep practicing and gaining experience, there’s no reason you can’t reach the top of the ladder, too!