Over the last decade or so, the topic of how much NFL cheerleaders make has sprung up often, and never in a good way for the league or its teams.
As lawsuit after lawsuit has claimed – and subsequently been muted and settled quietly – cheerleaders have long been paid less than minimum wage for the hours expected of them and have been subject to several other limiting conditions.
The last couple of years have seemingly moved the needle a little for these icons of the distinctly American sport, and yet, being an NFL cheerleader isn’t nearly as well-paying or glamorous as the hype and publicity may indicate.
Average NFL Cheerleader Salary
As with most figures pertaining to the salaries or earnings of non-player NFL workers, the salaries of NFL cheerleaders for this season are predominantly unknown. However, reports point to US$22,500 per year.
This figure of US$22,500 as the average salary of an NFL cheerleader seems a fair bit off, however, as the same publications cite rates of US$150 for game-day performances and up to US$75 for additional public appearances.
At US$150 per game day (around US$1,500 per season for ten home games), an additional 280 public appearances at the rate of US$75 per showing would be needed to hit that US$22,500.
Taking into consideration the hours and costs of being an NFL cheerleader, such as attending practice, keeping fit, and additional beauty costs like makeup and manicures, the income is significantly reduced.
As averages go, though, some particularly high-paid cheerleaders may be bringing up the figure, especially if it’s to be believed that some teams are paying individuals as much as US$100,000 per year.
Average salaries being reported for NFL cheerleaders may even be quite far off of the mark considering the very recent, even lower earnings of these game-day performers.
As reported in 2018, in 2015, rookie cheerleading sensation Erica Wilkins broke into the popular Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders team, was part of the elite Show Group, was a star of their reality TV show, and appeared on her own on the swimsuit calendar’s cover.
Still, while seemingly at the pinnacle of the profession and being incredibly marketable for the team, Wilkins only fetched US$4,700 after taxes.
At the time of the report, cheerleaders were getting US$8 per hour at practice, and little if nothing is known about the pay offered by way of potential bonuses for performing in the postseason.
So, there may be additional pay packets to come for current Cowboys cheerleaders as bonuses for team progression if Dallas makes good on its +1000 in the NFL futures betting to win the Super Bowl.
For the vast majority of NFL cheerleaders, their earnings aren’t enough to support them for the year and second jobs are required – even though they’re working for one of the biggest sporting entities on the continent.
Highest Paid NFL Cheerleaders
It’s very difficult to find any public or overly reliable information about the pay given to NFL cheerleaders in the league right now, with most details being at the low end and relayed through lawsuits.
A fair few outlets have run away with the figure of US$75,000 being paid by the Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers to their cheerleaders. Some cite salaries of US$100,000 for the highest-paid cheerleaders in the NFL.
A commonly-cited NBC Sports piece says that cheerleaders get up to US$500 per match or between US$15 to US$20 per hour, and that this translates to US$75,000 per year for these independent contractors.
However, 40-hour weeks at US$20 per hour for 52 weeks of the year comes to US$41,600. Add on $500 per game, and even if the team goes to the Super Bowl via the Wild Card round, that only adds US$10,500.
Even at the most extreme application of the per hour and game day pays, US$22,900 is missing for these quoted figures.
Having lost 10-24 to the Atlanta Falcons in their season opener, the Panthers might just be hoping that their reportedly high-paid cheerleaders can still entertain the packed Bank of America Stadium at home games this season.
With the Panthers not even considered in the postseason markets and the NFL betting lines having them at +130 to beat the New Orleans Saints in their home opener, the crowd will surely need a boost from elsewhere.
Can NFL Cheerleaders Earn Money Elsewhere?
In the exposé A Woman’s Work, which recounts Lacy Thibodeaux-Fields’ experience as an Oakland Raiders cheerleader, the employment attorney she hired states that “there are more provisions in [her NFL contract] that are illegal than any contract I know.”
This could be pertaining to any number of rules for the relatively low-paid performers, including needing to hide or remove tattoos and piercings, adhering to weight control rules, not wearing sweatpants in public, staying away from players, not publicizing opinions, complains, or using of slang, and not posting “inappropriate” photos on social media.
For a part-time job that emphasizes a performer’s athleticism and beauty – a role which includes shooting for risqué calendars that cheerleaders are expected to buy and sell – the rules can be very restrictive, especially on social media platforms that could be converted into an earnable followings if more personality was allowed.
A fine example of additional earnings that would have capitalized on the role of cheerleader being quashed by the NFL came in November 2022, when Indianapolis Colts cheerleader Kristin Elise was fired for her OnlyFans content being leaked to Reddit.
Some NFL cheerleaders pad their earnings with jobs like personal fitness trainers and associated athletic professions to help stay in shape, but self-promotion on social media certainly runs the risk of drawing the ire of the NFL.
How much NFL cheerleaders earn in the modern league is unclear, but seemingly generous estimates place the averages at around US$22,500 per year.
*Credit for all images in this article belongs to AP Photo*