The Cost of Becoming a Skilled Referee

FOLLOW: Commentary

(or How I Spend $6300 Per Year on Roller Derby)

On July 29, 2012 I attended derby practice for the first time.  I arrived carrying new skates -- a pair of RW Outlaw skates, size 7.  They cost me about $350 including a set of gear.  This was one of the best investments I've ever made.  Over the next few months I dropped 30 lbs. and conservatively estimated I’ll save 50 times that amount in avoided medical costs over the next few decades.

It's been nearly 2.5 years since that time. I have progressed from fresh meat training to league head referee on the cusp of applying for WFTDA certification.  Two weekends ago I hit a major milestone -- one hundred games reffed.  It's been a wild ride and a busy one.  In addition to all these games I ref a scrimmage each week and attend two additional practices.

All this means lots of fun but it also means the price tag of this hobby is growing.  Reffing ain't cheap.  Neither is playing I understand, but I've come to learn that reffing is usually more expensive because of greater amount of travel involved.  So in honor of my 100th game I decided to do some math about just how much I’m spending on the sport.  Here’s what I've come up with:

Non-travel expenses

This includes my initial set of gear, ref jerseys and whistles, upgraded skates and replacement gear, secondary insurance, admission to referee clinics, etc.

$380 -- Basic gear

$30 -- Ref shirt, whistle on lanyard, and finger whistle

$0 -- Dues.  My league does not charge dues for referees.

$0 -- Medical costs.  I am fortunate in that I have not been injured.

$130 -- Secondary insurance.  I don’t remember my exact costs for insurance, so I’m conservatively estimating an amount.  It was almost certainly more than this.

$600 -- New and upgraded gear.  This includes new skates, wrist guards, knee pads, whistles, etc.  Again, this is a conservative estimate.

$115 for training costs (referee clinics)

Total: $1,225

Travel expenses - home league

The single biggest expense I pay in roller derby is travel costs.  Not plane travel to distant tournaments, but just plain ol' driving costs.  These are the expenses I pay for attending events in which my home league is participating.

$4113.45 -- Mileage to and from home league events.  At the federal mileage allowance of $0.56 cents per mile, driving to and from league events adds up adds up fast.  That covers gas, car insurance, maintenance costs, and depreciation on my vehicle.  I drove an estimated 7,345 miles back and forth to my home league rink (33.2 miles round trip), plus a few slightly longer trips to an outdoor rink we also use (36.1 miles).

$608.98 -- Mileage and toll costs for away games and scrimmages in which my league is a participant. This also includes $15 I gave to league members as gas money when they gave me a ride.  My league has never reimbursed my travel expenses (nor do they for players except on the most rare occasions, I believe).  This number is unusually low for a referee, as my league prefers to avoid doing away events.

Total: $4,722.43

Travel expenses - other leagues

One can become a referee at my league while only attending league practices, scrimmages, and games.  To become any good as a referee requires more effort.  I put thousands of miles on my car plus the pervasive road and bridge tolls that accompany driving in Mid-Atlantic states.

These expenses break down as follows:

$8,225.15 -- Mileage and toll costs for away events.  This includes the bulk of my 100 games, plus about 75 scrimmages hosted by other leagues.  Mileage to and from those referee clinics is also included here.  I had to guesstimate a couple of numbers, but this is fairly close to accurate.  I estimate I put just under 13,650 miles on my car, nearly twice as far as I drove for my home league.

$400 -- Lodging for tournaments and clinics.  I served as a referee at all of these tournaments.

Total: $8,625.15.

My income

Yes, I do make a bit of money as a referee.  Not much, but a little.  Occasionally leagues hand me an envelope with a small stipend ($10-25) for gas.  I also give ride to members of my own league to derby events I am reffing.  They've chipped in for gas from time to time.

$80 -- Gas money from league members for giving them rides to derby events.

$135 -- Stipends from other leagues for reffing their games.

Total income: $215.

Net costs

Here’s how everything finally works out.

$1,225.00 +

$4,722.43 +



$14,572.57 -



$14,357.57 = Total amount I paid over 28 months

= $6,300 / year

So there you have it.  I blew $14,357.57 on roller derby in 833 days, the time between the day I walked into roller derby and the day I reffed my 100th game.  This comes to $17.24 per day, or just under $6,300 per year.  My husband may wish I was still playing World of Warcraft when he sees this number.  At $15 per month, it was a much cheaper hobby.

Comparison with players

As a group, roller derby is more expensive for referees than it is for players.  The more ambitious and active the referee, the more that expense grows.

Let’s compare costs over a period of 28 months, the time I’ve been involved in derby.  Players attend home events so the costs of traveling to home practices, scrimmages, and games is approximately the same for refs and players.  Skaters like nice skates, pay secondary insurance, and attend derby clinics.  Those cost about the same as well.

What players pay that referees generally do not is dues. Estimating $40 per month dues, over my 28 months in roller derby that comes to $1,120.  Some leagues charge minimal dues for refs, but most don’t.

Players also faced increased medical costs.  While both refs and players suffer injuries, players experience them more often. So let’s add another $400 to reflected the higher probability that players will require medical care during that period of time.  The $400 is a complete guesstimate - it’s the best I can do without any statistics regarding differing frequencies of injury and treatment costs.

This brings us to $1,520.  I’ll increase that to $2,500 to cover whatever else I’m forgetting.  Entrance fees for open scrimmages.  A reversible scrimmage shirt.  Markers to write skater numbers on their arms.  Skater number armbands.  Increased wear and tear on gear.  Helping out a neighboring league who needs an extra skater for a game.  Whatever.

I am specifically not including gym memberships.  I couldn't decide whether this counted as a derby expense or not.  Some refs work out in gyms, some don’t.  Some players do, some don’t.  Some of those who work out out would do so even if they weren't involved with roller derby.

So how does this compare?

$8,625.15 = My “non-player” expenses over a 28 month period.

$2,500.00 = Rough estimate of “player-only” expenses over 28 months.


$6,125.15 = $2,625.06 / year = Rough estimate of my additional costs over a similarly-active player at a league like mine.

Does this mean it's always more expensive for referees than for players?  No.  I drove 20,000+ miles in 28 months, but I know at least one player (I'm looking at you, Criss Catastrophe) who drove to multiple leagues at least as often as I did.  But as a group, it's more expensive to be a dedicated ref than a player.


Some referees put in a minimal amount of effort by sporadically attending practice and league events.  For them this is good enough to meet their interests in derby.  These people keep their costs to a minimum, probably even below what players face.  These people never excel as referees though.

I’m ambitious.  I wouldn’t call myself a great referee, but I’m passionate about bettering my skills and becoming the best that I can become.  Toward this end, it cost me more than $14,300 during my first 28 months in roller derby.  I went rather nuts with reffing, so you can assume my annual costs were a higher than normal.  Even so, I know referees who spend thousands of dollars more than I do flying to tournaments around the country that will lead them to the higher levels of certification.

I have no lesson to end this article other than three thoughts.

First, becoming a skilled referee costs a lot of money.

Second, this is why referees don’t like players and leagues who disrespect us and our contributions.

Finally, we pay this cost because we are passionate about skating and reffing for and with the many players, officials, coaches, photographers, announcers, and fans that we grow to respect, admire, like, and on occasion love.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to pack.  I leave shortly to drive eight hours to ref a statewide tournament in Ohio.  A referee’s work is never done.

Stephen Lorimor

Head Referee, Jerzey Derby Brigade


Data for the above article can be found here:

About The Author

DOB: 3/29/1971
Leagues: Bio:

Nut referee who spends way too much time on roller derby.  WFTDA level 1 certified referee.  Author of The Zen of Reffing Roller Derby training program.  Writer for Roller Derby Rule of the Day on Facebook.

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