How much are referees paid in the MLS? Who is the highest paid ref?
The salaries of MLS referees vary drastically with top match officials earning into six figures. The average salary is around $40,000.
It has to be said - Refereeing in Major League Soccer isn’t the most lucrative job in the world - and those who sign up for it will earn much less than their counterparts in the top European leagues. Nevertheless, the top match officials can earn up to $200,000 a year in the US - depending on how much experience they have racked up. That is determined by the number of games a referee has overseen during the regular season and the number of years they have been working.
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All MLS referees’ salaries are determined by a sliding pay scale, from one to four. Level 1 is entry level - the lowest level on the pay scale for referees who have less than 20 matches’ experience, while Level 4 is the top end of the pay scale - to get there, refs must have officiated a minimum of 76 games before the start of a new MLS campaign. The registration period runs from 1 July until 30 June the following year and there are currently around 14,000 match officials on US Soccer’s books, covering games from grass roots and amateur level right the way up to USL Championship, MLS and international level. Of the nine referees who will oversee games in the 2022 regular season, five are FIFA-listed and therefore able to officiate in international games and tournaments (Jair Marrufo, Armando Villarreal, Ismail Elfath, Drew Fischer and Rubiel Vázquez) and obviously, that gives them the chance to work more and earn more than those involved solely in domestic competition.
Level 1 referees earn $565 per game, assistant referees make $255 per game while fourth officials earn $205. Level 2 refs will have slightly more experience - between 21 and 40 games and earn $670 per game. Going up a step to Level 3, referees have 41 to 75 matches under their belt and earn $775 per game, assistant referees at this level earn $360 with fourth officials taking home $260. The top earners come under Level 4. These are the most experienced referees and for that reason, they are at the top end of the pay structure. These officials have at least 76 games of experience at the highest level and receive $875 per game, the assistant referees receive $495, and the fourth official earns $285. Level 4 referees are also more likely to officiate MLS All-Star Games for which they are paid a $1500 fee. Those in the top bracket earn an annual salary of around $55,000.
The top-earning referees in MLS last year were Silviu Petrescu, Hilario Grajeda, Mark Geiger, Alan Kelly, Allen Chapman and Kevin Stott, who all earned $55,000 before tax.
Compared to the elite referees officiating in the major Europe leagues, MLS refs earn far less. In England's Premier League, match officials earn $2,000 per match and an annual salary of between $66,000 and $274,000. While in the Champions League, top level referees can make anything from $1,500 to $10,000 per match.