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Cheerleaders have prettied up the sidelines of National Football League games now for about a half-century, and their celebrity and allure continues. Yet, our readers often ask about why they do it, and for what pay.
How much do NFL cheerleaders make? Not much, really. An NFL cheerleader makes, on average, about $22,500 a year, or $150 per game, plus $50 to $75 per public appearances away from games.
Some make up to $500 per game (and some guestimate up to $1,000 per game), if they are part of a popular squad, do some “extras” for cash like public appearances, or do playoff games.
The cheerleader pay goes all the way up to the $75,000 per year reportedly received by Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and the TopCats of the Carolina Panthers. (For other teams, only veteran cheerleaders approach the $50,000 to $70,000 a year range.
It’s quite the salary range ~ $22,500 to $75,000. It is not difficult to surmise that NFL cheerleaders are not paid much.
Why are these cheerleaders, who are shown on television and are quite visible in stadiums, so poorly paid? It’s a good question, and we’re here to provide some answers.
For a long time, NFL cheerleaders were paid a very low amount per game, like $25 per game. It was as if the stance of the clubs was, “You’re lucky to be here,” or “You’ll make more on the side because of our publicity.”
The NFL teams placed a great value on the prestige and attention these cheerleaders attained by performing at games where the action on the field attracted television cameras and millions of eyes either at the stadium or watching at home.
So much so, in fact, that clubs would pay cheerleaders as little as $5 an hour for game cheering.
That is changing, thanks to legal actions in recent years. A reason cheerleaders have been so poorly paid is that they historically worked as independent contractors, that is, they were not regular employees of a company (the team).
As such, they pretty much worked “at will,” meaning, at the will of the client/payor. So many women want to be professional cheerleaders that the pool of qualified participants is quite large, hence lack of demand and low pay.
Things have improved in recent years, thanks to lawsuits and legislative action. Groups of cheerleaders have challenged the pay system, and won, securing at least minimum wage for their services, which is $7.25 to $15 per hour depending on the state.
It started in 2016, when the Oakland Raiderettes sued the club and won, forcing the organization to bring them on as employees. Other cheer squads followed suit.
Some caught the attention of their local lawmaker, who might pitch a law to colleagues that gets voted in the affirm. That’s what happened in California.
Due to a complaint filed by Raiderettes in 2014, the court ordered the Oakland Raiders to pay cheerleaders that state minimum wage, which in California is $15 per hour.
The next year, the state of California passed a law recognizing professional cheerleaders operating in the state as employees, therefore entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay.
Additionally, 2 former Raiderettes claimed a $1.25 million settlement with the club, ending their class-action lawsuit for “wage theft.” Finally, in 2021, cheerleaders for 10 NFL teams sued for wage theft, discrimination, sexual harassment, and unsafe working conditions.
Cheerleaders for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a reported $825,000 settlement; the Cincinnati Bengals settled with their cheerleaders for a reported $255,000.
As of the 2022 season, 6 teams in the NFL do not have cheerleaders: Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Green Bay Packers
Some, like the Bills, dropped the cheer squads due to lawsuits like those noted above (5 “Jills” cheerleaders complained in court about unpaid hours worked, and won $3.5 million). One , the Giants, has ownership that doesn’t believe in having scantily dressed women entertain fans each game.
The others for the most part don’t have cheerleaders because it just gets too darn cold. Look at the list!: Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Would you want to be out in the elements in hot shorts and leggings for 3 or 4 hours in the winter? Yikes.
The timing of the 2021 lawsuits couldn’t have been worse for the teams ~ the legal filings occurred when a national debate over pay for female athletes compared with their male counterparts surfaced. The end result is better pay for NFL cheerleaders, but still not great pay.
Aside from the veteran cheerleaders or high-paying teams, most NFL cheerleaders make $15 to $20 per hour.
The court and legislative actions forced teams to bring cheerleaders on as bonafide employees, which meant even on a part-time basis they were due certain rights, like being paid for their time for at least the minimum amount allowed by law.
In response to this (and sometimes other reasons), some NFL teams chose to drop the cheer squads altogether.
Among the reasons for the cheerleaders’ low pay through the years is, how many hours do they actually work?
Many Hours of Work Weekly for NFL Cheerleaders
For most NFL cheerleaders, their work dressed up on the sidelines is a side job apart from their regular full-time employment; or an “adjunct” to a performing career. That is, cheerleading might be considered supplementary to a main career in dance.
Lots of fans think the cheerleaders only work the 3 or 4 hours when games are in action. That would mean only 8 or 9 games per year.
However, these performers don’t just fill out an application, sit through an interview, and suit up in hot pants at stadiums near you. A whole heck of a lot goes into being a professional cheerleader.
It may be a reason why teams were reluctant to pay per hour, because, what constitutes “work.”
Think about it: to perform in sync before large crowds at NFL games, each cheerleader must attend practices, which take up hours per week. That part of it could be measured by teams in hours, as in, 5 hours are allocated for practice each week.
However, cheerleaders have to look pristine on game day, and that means makeup, maintaining a hair style, and accessories like hair bands and clips, plus the wardrobe. NFL cheerleaders buy their own uniforms!
It’s hard for a cheerleader to estimate how long it will take to prepare for a game. Could it be 2 hours? Maybe. Might be 4 hours for others depending on how much they choose to do for their look.
All told, cheerleading commands arriving at games 5 hours before game time, to prepare for their performance. In all, they spend 30 to 40 hours a week practicing and preparing. So during the season, which lasts roughly from mid-August (pre-season games) to early January, they are putting in full-time hours.
All that, for 14-hour days in the stadium for 8 or 9 games, plus time lost to bus rides to and from games, and following all club regulations like rules about cheerleaders dating NFL players, and more.
Some cheerleaders get lucky and their team makes the playoffs. Super lucky cheer team members perform for teams that win playoff games ~ maybe even making it to the conference championship or Super Bowl!
Besides pay at the playoff games, there is extreme exposure for these performers as their faces could be shown on television to millions of viewers globally. It’s quite a bit more exposure than working for a dance troupe that performs regionally.
All the while, NFL teams are multi-million-dollar operations, with some huge salaries, and even the staff members handing out beverages at games make more than the cheerleaders.
Put it this way: the mascots you see at NFL games make $25,000 per season, so it’s comparable with most cheerleaders. However, NFL waterboys on the field most often make over $50,000 annually. The waterboys get paid double what the cheerleaders make.
Question: How does the pay for NFL cheerleaders compare with cheer team members in the National Basketball Association (NBA)?
Answer: NBA cheerleaders are similarly paid. NBA cheerleaders get up to $150 per game, which adds up more than their NFL counterparts because basketball teams have 41 home games a season, compared with 8 or 9 in the NFL. Some reports indicate NBA cheerleaders for top teams could get $400 to $650 per game. So at the top of their game, if they make $650 for 41 games, top-paid NBA cheerleaders have a salary of $26,650. It’s much lower than the $75,000 for the top NFL teams, but in line with the pay of most of the football clubs.
Q.: How does pay for NFL cheerleaders compare with players and coaches?
A.: Not well. The average annual pay for an NFL player is $2 million per season. For 17 games, that’s $117,647.06 per game ~ way above the $500 to $1,000 the top cheerleaders would make. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers makes over $50 million per season.
Q.: When did cheerleading start in the NFL?
A.: Some reports have forms of cheer squads as early as 1954. However, the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970s are credited with shaping the teams and their appearances to draw national notoriety ~ including posters of the cheer team! The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are most often mentioned to represent what you might see for NFL cheer squads.