Referees: Are they worth $8.50 per game?

Referees: Are they worth $8.50 per game?

I have mice in my garage. So, I call pest control and have them come in to manage these pests. A guy shows up barely old enough to shave. Don’t stop reading. I promise this is going to be about referees, but you came to AFTN. You must know any editorial is required to be overly long and have tangential rants… Buddy charges me a $75.00 an hour plus a $100.00 call out fee. He kills a bunch of the mice but there is still fresh poop in my garage.

What does that have to do with refereeing? Well, it is an analogy. Referees, like exterminators, are fairly low skill workers. Neither has PhD or extensive training, they mostly learn on the job. They come to a location, perform a task most people find unpleasant and leave. One might expect these to have similar pay. If that was true, this article would be woefully pointless.

The lowest paid referee is the assistant referees or AR. Native to the touch line he or she arrives 15 minutes before a match to check in players, referees for 90 minutes plus five minutes of stoppage time, and is obliged to attend a 15-minute half time break. In the self proclaimed, “BC’s Premier amateur league”, the Vancouver Metro Soccer League (VMSL), ARs make $50 for just over two hours of work or roughly $24.00 per hour. But the AR is a subordinate, the dominant referee species is the centre referee.

The centre referee has ultimate responsibility for the match. In addition to the time spent by the subordinate species, the centre referee spends its time on a computer reporting on unsporting behaviour and whether a team brought nets. This process takes on average 30 minutes. So, centre refs work for just over 2.5 hours on each match. The centre referee is paid more handsomely than the AR receiving about $36.00 per hour.

What this suggests is that an exterminator earns an hourly rate of 2-3x more than the referee makes. If we include the call out fee, ARs make 1/10 and centre referees make 1/7 of what an exterminator makes. If you have ever wondered why there are not better referees, maybe it is because the pay is shite. Would you want to be yelled at by two teams, in the rain, for less per hour than I pay my cleaning lady? … No.

The VMSL’s board has asked the referees to put together a committee for referee compensation. That committee is requesting that referees and assistant referees be paid $140 and $100 per match. An hourly rate of approximately $45 and $55 per hour. Still considerably less than the exterminator.

But what does that actually mean for the players? Well assuming there are 40 rostered players in a match, games without assistant referees costs each player… drum roll pleas… $3.50 per player. Wait that is less than the beer in the cooler post game. Yes, yes it is. Well surely when there are assistant referees the cost becomes unbearable. Nope, $8.50 per player per game. To be clear, $3.50, and $8.50 is the total cost, the increase to each player is less than that.

The League is considering the proposal. They are in the untenable position of approving or not the fee increase. If they approve, the teams are upset that things cost more. If they do not approve, the referees become upset and continue to be grossly underpaid.

I want you to make the VMSL’s job easier. Talk to your teammates and to the board. Indicate that the referees’ request is reasonable.

Disclosure – Darnell Smith, author of this editorial, is vice-chair of the Vancouver Soccer Referee’s Committee for Compensation. He is not a referee in the VMSL and was appointed to the Committee for his vocational expertise. He is a referee in BC and is a past president of the BC Soccer Referee’s Association.

Authored by: Darnell Smith

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Craig at 12:18

    All good points and a valuable perspective. One thing I should correct is that most referees – certainly for any adult games – will arrive around 45 mins before kick off, not 15. For some it will be a full hour but then others might be just 30 mins so I think 45 mins is a fair average.

    We have a major issue attracting (and retaining) referees in all sports and it’s getting worse by the day. Ref pay isn’t the only issue, nor is it the only solution, but paying someone fairly for their time and efforts would certainly help make it more worth while for people to pick up the whistle. It is a tough job but as we all know, the games can’t go on without them.

  2. Dimitri at 12:34

    Point taken but here are some relevant comments.
    After a long journey as a player and coach, I was a referee in Vancouver for several years in the late 80s to 90s – including the VMSL.
    The last thing I, and most of my fellow referees, had in mind was the amount of compensation we received. We did it because we loved the game and enjoyed being around each other, the players, coaches, administrators and fans. The relationship with teams and players was antagonistic in the surface but we were all part of the same soccer family. I would have coaches yelling at me for 90 minutes but come after the game to offer me a cold beer and chat about our families.
    As for compensation, we spent it on equipment, training, travel expenses and referee clinics. All decent referees would train several times weekly, would attend referee meetings and clinics and arrive at the field at least an hour before kick-off. After the game we would complete and deliver game reports. I do not oppose an increse in compensation for referees but the best compensation is the love affair with the game. Cheers, and Happy New Year.

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