Sport Rulebook

The Truth About NBA Referee Salaries: How Much Do They Really Make?

NBA Referee Salaries Revealed: How Much Do They Make per Game and What Are the Benefits?Refereeing is a critical role in any sport and the National Basketball Association (NBA) is no exception, as referees serve as the guardians of the game. Their job is to make sure all the rules and regulations of the game are upheld, making them an integral part of the sport.

But have you ever wondered how much NBA referees earn for their crucial roles on the court? Here, we take a closer look at NBA refereeing salaries, comparing them with other sports, so you can get a more in-depth understanding of what they earn and the benefits they receive.

NBA Referee Salaries

Starting Salary: Entry-Level NBA Referees

NBA referees start earning from $180,000 to $250,000 per year, which is a sizeable amount for an entry-level position. This salary range is much higher than that of other professional sports leagues, with the exception of Major League Baseball (MLB) umpires.

However, it’s important to note that referees don’t typically work regular full-time schedules as they are called upon only to officiate during NBA games. For example, if an NBA regular season consists of 82 games, then a standard NBA referee has the opportunity to make between $2,200 and $3,000 per game.

Senior Salary: Experienced NBA Referees

As senior-level officials, NBA referees can make up to $500,000-$550,000 annually. Along with the higher salary, they also receive many benefits, such as health care coverage, 401(k) contributions, and travel stipends.

Experienced referees are also eligible for bonuses for various reasons, such as officiating in the playoffs and finals. As expected, seniority matters a great deal in the world of NBA refereeing.

Along with continued experience, referees who show high levels of skill and professionalism move up the ranks, which leads to higher pay grades.

Comparison with Other Referees

Difference Between Entry-Level NBA and WNBA Referees

NBA referees earn a slightly higher salary than Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) officials, who earn an average of $180,000 per year. For those starting out, NBA referees can earn up to $70,000 more per year than their WNBA counterparts, despite having a similar level of responsibility and overall duties.

According to sources, there is no precise reason as to why NBA referees earn more than WNBA referees, but it could be due to the huge difference in revenue generated by both sports leagues.

Difference Between NBA and NFL Referees

It appears that in terms of pay, NFL referees trail NBA referees, earning an average of $205,000 per year. However, there are a few differences that make the roles distinct.

NFL referees typically have salaries that are regulated while NBA referees work as independent contractors, thereby giving NBA referees more autonomy over their schedules and union representation.

Difference Between NBA and NHL Referees

NHL referees have a similar level of responsibility and game officiating time as NBA referees, but their salaries differ substantially. As of 2021, the average NHL referee salary is $262,500 per year, which is almost six figures less than the NBA’s entry-level referee salary.

While their duties overlap considerably, the difference in pay could be due to the higher physical demands of ice hockey compared to basketball, or the fact that the NHL generates less revenue than the NBA.

Difference Between NBA and MLB Umpires

MLB umpires earn more than referees in any other sport, making up to $450,000 per year. While there are 76 NBA referees, there are 76 MLB umpires as well.

The higher pay could be due to the fact that baseball has more games than any other sport, providing umpires with more opportunities to earn money.


In conclusion, NBA referees’ salaries are some of the highest in the sports industry. Furthermore, the salaries are higher than those of the referees in other professional sports despite similar job descriptions and responsibilities.

As with any job market, the salary is determined by the level of demand for such jobs and the number of qualified candidates available in the market. NBA refereeing positions are competitive and require significant experience and training to reach the upper echelons of the salary scale.

Comparison with

NBA Player Salaries: Why There Is a Significant

Difference in Salaries Between NBA Players and RefereesIt’s no secret that NBA players make some of the highest salaries among professional athletes. For example, Stephen Curry earned $43.6 million in 2021, making him one of the highest-paid athletes in the world.

Naturally, a comparison with NBA referee salaries is likely to reveal a significant gap in earnings. However, the comparison between referee salaries and player salaries is not as straightforward as we might think.

The following is an in-depth look into average NBA player salaries, versus what NBA referees make, and the reasons behind the distinguishable gap.

NBA Player Salaries

The average salary for NBA players is around $7.5 million per year, according to statistics from the 2020-21 season. However, superstar players can make much more than that due to endorsement deals and other income-generating ventures off the court.

Stephen Curry, for example, had a base salary of $34.4 million for the 2020-21 season, but with his endorsements, he nearly triples that amount, earning an estimated $110 million.

Difference in Salaries

According to data from the 2020-21 season, NBA referees earn an average salary of $376,000 per year, which is significantly lower than the average salary of NBA players. While there is a notable salary difference between NBA referees and players, there are a few reasons why such a difference exists.

Experience and Rarity

One reason for the significant gap in salaries between NBA players and referees is the relative rarity and higher level of experience required of NBA referees. Although some senior-level NBA referees earn higher salaries compared to referees in other sports leagues, it’s still considerable less than what lower-level NBA players earn.

As the NBA referees work on a freelance basis, they’re not guaranteed a fixed income every year but are required to maintain a high level of performance and attend continuing training and professional development sessions. The top NBA players, on the other hand, don’t compare to referees in rarity.

Not everyone can become a referee, but many can become professional basketball players.

Revenue Sharing

Another reason for the wage gap in the NBA is the revenue-sharing model in place, which prioritizes paying players more than referees. The significant revenue the NBA generates is mostly garnered from merchandise sales, ticket sales, and broadcasting rights.

These profits are mostly shared among the teams, with some of the profits distributed to league functions and initiatives. Given that players are the main contributors to generating revenue, they are compensated at a much higher rate.

Additionally, most NBA teams consist of around 15 players, compared to the mere 76 referees employed by the NBA. Therefore, NBA players’ salaries reflect the proportion of their contributions to the overall league revenue, which many would argue is fair, given that both players and teams work hard to generate the revenue they earn.


Another significant difference between NBA referees and players is their level of unionization. NBA players have the National Basketball Players Association, which represents their interests and negotiates collective bargaining agreements with the NBA owners to obtain higher wages.

Referees, on the other hand, have the National Basketball Referees Association, which aims to advocate for their rights, but they have weaker bargaining power and fewer opportunities to negotiate higher wages.


While the wage gap between NBA players and referees is considerable, it’s essential to note that every position in the sport comes with its unique challenges, responsibilities, and requirements in terms of education, experience, and personal investment costs. While NBA players may earn significantly more than referees, it is primarily because they generate more revenue for the league through their playing abilities, leading to a proportionate level of reward.

It’s important to remember that NBA referees play an important role in the sport, and they are integral to upholding the rules and ensuring the sport’s fairness and integrity. In conclusion, NBA player salaries are substantially higher than the salaries of NBA referees, with Stephen Curry earning $43.6 million in 2021, compared to an average salary of $376,000 for referees.

However, the significant difference in salaries can be attributed to various reasons, including the rarity and experience required of referees, revenue-sharing models, and unionization differences. Despite the gap in earnings between referees and players, both positions play a vital role in the sport, and their contributions are highly appreciated.

The takeaway from this article is that understanding the factors that influence employee compensation is crucial, and it’s vital to identify the value of each profession in a particular industry.


Q: What is the average salary for NBA players?

A: The average salary for NBA players in the 2020-21 season was $7.5 million. Q: Who is the highest-paid NBA player in 2021?

A: Stephen Curry earned $43.6 million in 2021. Q: What is the average salary of NBA referees?

A: The average salary of NBA referees is around $376,000 per year. Q: Why do NBA players earn more than referees?

A: NBA players’ high salaries can be attributed to their rarity and experience, revenue-sharing models, and unionization. Q: Is the wage gap between NBA players and referees fair?

A: While it’s often perceived as unfair, the wage gap primarily reflects the contributions that each position makes to the overall league’s revenue.

Popular Posts