They make the all-important scoring calls. They frequently tell the crowd to be quiet during games. They penalize players for smashing racquets or getting coaching during the match. They make line calls. It’s not the most glamorous job in tennis, but umpires are essential to the game. They maintain fairness, keep score, and establish order for both players and spectators.
Umpires also come under scrutiny for controversial decisions. Think of Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire during the US Open final in 2018 between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. He had to make the (arguably) fair decision of penalizing Williams for receiving coaching, smashing her racquet, and verbal abuse.
Also, Umpires make crucial calls on unclear point situations. Thankfully they have the technology now for close line calls, but there are other instances where they have to make decisions without clear-cut technology informing them of the right call.
Umpires, therefore, do have a substantial role in a tennis match. You might wonder how much do tennis umpires get paid? The answer depends on several factors.
Types of Umpires
Before we examine the numbers, a distinction between the two umpires in a tennis match is useful to know.
The chair umpire, who, as the name suggests, sits in the tall chair during the game, is the highest officiating authority during a match. They announce and keep score, address the crowd, penalize the players if necessary, and have the final say in all decisions during a match. They can overrule the second type of umpire, the line umpire.
The line umpires stand behind the baseline of each player, paying close attention to the boundaries of the tennis court. They call balls that hit outside the line and assist the chair umpire with ensuring fairness in point awards. They have to make split-second decisions and must have great eyesight. For top-tier tennis, they do have line technology to assist them.
There is a third type of umpire called the Chief of Umpires. These umpires are tournament-specific and generally aren’t involved in the matches themselves. Their role is to hire and manage the team of chair and line umpires for a given tournament.
Badge Level for Umpires
Besides the umpire role, another factor influencing the compensation of tennis umpires is their badge level. For any umpire to officiate at an international level in top-tier tennis, they have to go through baseline certification processes outlined by the tennis authorities.
Once they pass the baseline certifications, umpires are classified at the bronze badge. Depending on performance and experience, umpires may move up to the silver badge and, ultimately, the gold badge. International certified umpires are the ones officiating at grand slams, ATP and WTA tours, and the Fed and Davis cups.
Like most sports officials, umpires are compensated on a per-match basis plus other benefits such as travel and expenses during tournaments. Compensation varies depending on the skill and experience of the umpire. Gold badge umpires generally earn more than their bronze or silver counterparts.
According to an interview by a former chair umpire, umpiring on the ATP tour can bring between $1000-$1500/week. Combined with working on Davis Cup and other international tournaments, average earnings can go up to $72,000 – $84,000 a year. These are in addition to expenses covered (fully or partially) for travel and accommodation during competitions.
However, some other sources report much higher earnings for top-tier umpires. Sportekz reports male umpires in the top-tier to be earning $485,000 a year, whereas their female counterparts earn $280,000. The same source reports entry-level umpires to earn around $70,000 a year.
Sources for pay for umpires in the lower skill/experience level are scarce. According to a user on the tennis forum website Tennis Warehouse, pay for non-contracted, non-salaried umpires can range from $15,000 – $30,000 annually. Line umpires earn somewhere between $70-$150 per day.
Umpires have an important role in Tennis matches. They are responsible for maintaining fair competition, discipline, crowd order, and overall continuity of the match. Chair umpires often have to make high-stakes decisions in matches. They award controversial points, hand out penalties to players (who don’t take too kindly to it), and control the crowd. All this while maintaining the “gentlemen” spirit of the game.
Umpire earnings can vary substantially depending on the nature of your contract (salaried v/s by tournament or match), your skill level (that can be measured using your badge standard), the type of umpire you are (line v/s chair), and years of experience. Lower tier chair umpires earn in the $15,000-$30,000 range, whereas top tier umpires earn north of $70,000. Line umpires are more likely to be compensated on a per-match (or per-day basis) at $70-$150 per day.
Unless you make it to the very top, tennis umpiring does not seem to be a sustainable full-time career choice. However, it can make for a great part-time gig. Given there are plenty of opportunities during the year, you can partake in the competitions of your convenience. I imagine it’s a fun experience!