How much do NBA referees make? This is their average game rate and annual salary

With the league’s reach continually expanding internationally into Europe, Asia and Africa, soaring sponsorship, TV deals and merchandise licensing worth billions of dollars the NBA’s brand and popularity is at an all-time high.

For the first time in the league’s history, the average value of an NBA team is worth $1.25 billion. On top of all that, the new collective bargaining agreement have the players themselves raking in more and more of the league’s profits. That’s great for the players as the franchise owners and their management have been taking a huge piece of the pie for decades.

So even if the players are now getting more of the revenue, rest assured that management is still getting paid, what about NBA referees? Has their pay been commiserate with league revenue? It’s not an easy answer.

How much do NBA referees make per year?

So how much money does a NBA ref make?  Let’s take a look at other professional sports leagues first. The average salary for an NFL referee was reported to be around $205.000 for an entire season. In the MLB, umpire salaries range from $150,000 a season to well over $400,000 depending on experience, etc. according to this Career Trend article.

The NBA referees have a full-time job during the 8 month season. As we know, each NBA team plays 82 games during the regular season. And it’s no joke, a prerequisite for an NBA referee is to be physically fit so that they’re able to run along with the players and being constantly aware in order to make the correct calls. They’re also required to know all of the rules and able to make quick and difficult decisions under duress.

So how much is an NBA referee’s annual salary? An NBA ref’s average pay falls in the range of $150,000 to $550,000 dependent on the referee’s experience. This latest information we were able to find is a couple years old, but these numbers has been referenced several times on many different sites.

There’s only bits and pieces of info we were able to locate. If the above is to believed (and it’s not out of the realm of truth) then entry-level referees in the NBA earn $150,000 per year. However, according to The Sport Economist, the National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA) claimed that number to be somewhat lower – $91,000 – during negotiations in 2009. And in 2008, reported the salary for NBA referees as $95,000-$300,000 per season.

Not bad, even at the low end. You get to hang with NBA players, be on TV and you get approximately 3-4 months off a year, but the average referee salary wasn’t always this impressive and didn’t near six figures for sometime. Their annual paycheck has grown exponentially since 1983. More than 30 years ago, NBA officials made somewhere between $18,146 and $78,259 a year (not sure what that equates to in today’s money).

How much do NBA referees make per game?

On a per game basis, NBA referees make a really good living. If it’s true that referees earn somewhere between $150K and $550K, then it’s simple math to determine their game earnings by dividing their season salary by the number of regular season games.

Annual Salary 82 Games Per Game
$150,000 82 $1,829.27
$200,000 82 $2,439.02
$250,000 82 $3,048.78
$300,000 82 $3,658.54
$400,000 82 $4,878.05
$550,000 82 $6,707.32

So on a per game basis, for 48 minutes of sweat, one of the 80 or so NBA refs working that season make somewhere between $1,829 and $6,707. The higher end for those Earl Stroms, Dick Bavettas, Tony Brothers and the Joey Crawfords.

Of course this is for the NBA regular season. NBA refs that are assigned to the playoffs can make much more for each game they officiate. For the higher-exposure, higher pressure games, there’s even less reliable information, but we were able to find data on the Officiating forum. The following numbers were reported back in 2008:

Postseason Round Per Game
NBA Playoffs 1st Round $9,000
NBA Playoffs Finals $29,000

A since-deleted tweet tweeted by Brett Poirier of Sheridan Hoops a few years ago had the per game pay a little different

Postseason Round Per Game
NBA Playoffs 1st Round $4,500
NBA Playoffs 2nd round $10,540
NBA Playoffs Semi-finals $24,790
NBA Playoffs Finals $24,790

And recently, disgraced, former NBA official Tim Donaghy told KNBR, that a referee will listen to the league’s recommendations, so they can “advance” and “make that $75,000 to $100,000 a year in the playoffs.”

You be the judge. We think it’s likely more considering how much the NBA makes during the higher-profile games. Though there’s no official information out there, we’re sure NBA refs get bonuses, too if a series goes longer (not from a biased point of view, but from a revenue-share perspective). That said, for better or worse, refs are human, too. It only makes sense.

However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the league standardized playoff pay so that there’s no incentives to be unfair when making calls and stoke the rampant “the NBA is rigged” theories.

That’s considering that every NBA Finals game brings in approximately 40 million dollars or more for both the teams involved and the league. Millions in ad revenue, the exorbitant ticket prices that is being charged, all types of team and league merchandise, not to mention the stacks of money made from the food, beverage, and parking per stadium.

Basketball Referee Salaries for Other Leagues

College basketball referees for D-1 men’s NCAA games make over $2,000 per game and they can work over 70 games per season, so their annual salary for working the NCAA season is approximately $150,000 — the same as an entry-level ref in the NBA.

As far as WNBA referees, they make considerably less. Seeing as the league isn’t profitable and supported by the NBA, this makes sense. Still, WNBA referees aren’t making chump change either as they make $500 per game (about $16,000 per year). Do you have any updated data on how much NBA refs make per year? Let us know in the comments or drop us a note.

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