The NFL is a big-money business. The league had revenue of $18 billion in the 2021/22 season and split this with players at a nearly 50/50 rate.
NFL players, coaches, and staff often take home staggering paychecks, but what about cheerleaders?
The men and women that make up NFL cheerleading squads are a prominent part of the sport, but do they get paid anywhere near as well as the players? Keep reading to find out.
What Is The Average NFL Cheerleader Salary?
Unfortunately, cheerleaders are hugely underpaid compared with other jobs in the NFL.
It goes without saying that come game time, cheerleaders will have huge smiles on their faces. But the same might not be true when they check their bank balance.
NFL cheerleaders make, on average, $22,500 per year, which was less than half the average US salary of $54,132 in 2022.
Some squads get paid more. For example, America’s Sweethearts, the cheerleaders of the Dallas Cowboys, are one of the most well-known in the NFL and receive a reported salary of $75,000.
Still, the average number is shocking, especially when you compare it to NFL waterboy salaries, which average at around $53,000.
Cheerleaders’ pay also doesn’t reflect the work that goes into being on an NFL cheerleading squad.
Practice can take up to 30+ hours per week, they spend countless hours traveling to games, and have to be at the stadium five hours ahead of their performance time.
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Why Are Cheerleaders Paid So Badly?
Cheerleaders are not employees of NFL teams. They are independent contractors and historically have always been paid incredibly poorly.
Several former NFL cheerleaders had reported that they were paid well under the minimum wage, and one even wrote in Cosmopolitan Magazine that in 2006 when expenses were taken into account, she made just $300 for the whole season.
This injustice eventually led to one cheerleader taking a stand. Lacy Thibodeaux-Fields was part of the cheerleading team for the Oakland Raiders, the Raiderettes, but in 2014, she brought a lawsuit against the team for infringing employment law.
Eventually, Lacy and another former Raiders cheerleader won the case and were paid a $1.25-million settlement.
The Raiderettes were also offered new contracts that included an hourly rate above minimum wage and compensation for overtime.
This case was the subject of the 2019 documentary, A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem, and inspired dozens of other cheerleaders across the NFL to take their teams to court over poor pay.
In general, this has improved conditions for cheerleaders. They are now being paid at least minimum wage, despite this being a pittance compared to other NFL salaries.
How Much Do NFL Cheerleaders Make At The Super Bowl?
Unlike players and coaches, there is no evidence to suggest that NFL cheerleaders make big bonuses for Super Bowl or playoff appearances.
Following the lawsuit victory for Lacy Thibodeaux-Fields in 2014, it was confirmed that the Oakland Raiders cheerleaders ‘‘would be paid for all their work’’ and ‘‘entitled to overtime’’ – but this may just be at a minimum wage per hour.
So, it’s unlikely that NFL cheerleaders take home big checks for performing in the playoffs or Super Bowl.
How Easy Is It To Become A Cheerleader In The NFL?
Becoming an NFL cheerleader is very competitive and difficult to do, despite the relatively poor pay.
Before applying, you have to be:
- A high school graduate or have a GED equivalent
- Able to commit to an entire season (August through February)
- Available for all home games, as well as any potential playoff games
- Willing to participate in weekly practices and required appearances
- Able to pass a background check
Once you’ve ticked all those boxes, the real hard work starts.
Tryouts for NFL cheerleading squads feature hundreds of athletes who are whittled down to a group of around 50-60 who make the final squad.
Judges assess potential cheerleaders on their dance technique, performance skills, personality, and more.
Every cheerleader who makes it to the NFL ranks will also undoubtedly have high school or collegiate cheerleading experience.
So, just like the players, it’s not easy to make it in the pro ranks.
To Cheer Or Not To Cheer?
Despite NFL cheerleader salaries being meager in such a lucrative business, thousands of hopefuls try to make squads yearly.
Many see it as an opportunity to further their profile and résumé for future work, and the prestige and fame that comes with making an NFL cheer squad is real.
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Lead image: Rajiv Perera/Unsplash