How Much Do Professional Cheerleaders Make?

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High Visibility—Low Pay: Cheering for the Team

Cheerleaders for NFL and NBA teams say they don't take the job for the money. That's good, because it doesn't pay well. Teams have been notoriously secretive about how much they pay their cheerleaders, and salaries that have been reported for various teams show numerous differences between them. The only things they all have in common are that the job requires a hefty time commitment for practices, games and public appearances; the pay correlates to minimum wage at best; and the women are expected to have other part- or full-time jobs, which can include being a full-time, stay-at-home mom. Perks of the job include doing what you love, paid travel, appearing on television and having the hope that the job could lead to modeling or acting careers.

Job Description

Being a cheerleader for a pro sports team involves far more dancing than cheering. Unlike high school and competitive cheer squads, which practice elaborate pyramids and gymnastic feats, these cheerleaders perform highly choreographed dance routines in precision uniformity and always with a huge smile.

Cheerleaders perform at home games, make public appearances, pose for photos with fans and sign autographs. Sometimes they travel to perform at events such as bowl games or to entertain U.S. military troops. They must wear the official team uniform for games and appearances and the specified practice uniform for practices. Their overall appearances are also scrutinized as part of the job, including hair, nails, makeup and often their weight.

Teams stress that being an NFL or NBA cheerleader is a part-time job. They expect their cheerleaders to have another job, which can be full-time mother, as some cheerleaders are. Some teams even require their cheerleaders to sign a contract stating that they have another job.

For a part-time job, it's time-consuming. Plan on about eight hours of practice per week (more when you're new or inexperienced), eight hours on game day and more time for special events and appearances. Games can be any day of the week and on holidays.

Education and Training Requirements

According to the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders website, experience is not as important as "the gift of showmanship and the ability to learn."

In mandatory practices—held several times per week for several hours—cheerleaders learn and practice dozens of routines that will be used on the sidelines during games and taken on the road for other events. Those who don't attend practice are often benched.

NFL and NBA cheerleaders have traditionally been paid per game, at rates ranging from $75 to $150 per game. Some teams also pay for practices, typically at minimum hourly wage, and for appearances at an average of $50, but others are paid only for performing at games. Some teams pay less than minimum wage by declaring that cheerleaders are not employees, but independent contractors.

Cheerleaders report that there are many costs associated with being a professional cheerleader, including stylist appointments, manicures, private trainers and weight-loss regimens. Women still must pay a fee, between $25 and $75, to audition and often pay $25 and up to attend classes that teach how to audition successfully. The auditions often last multiple days, so you'll need to have flexibility in your other job to work this into your schedule.

About the Industry

Professional cheerleaders are employed in the sports industry, primarily for NFL and NBA teams. Although the jobs are part time, cheerleaders work 30 to 40 hours per week, including practices, games, charity work and appearances. They work indoors and outdoors in conditions that may be very hot or very cold and sometimes in inclement weather with precipitation.

Years of Experience

Most teams do not increase their cheerleaders' pay based on experience. Women are often required to audition every year, even if they were on the squad the previous season. Teams do not report having a maximum age for the job, and some, like the Dallas Cowboys, say they have had cheerleaders as "old" as 38. Due to the stamina needed for the job, though, and the youth-oriented culture, the majority of professional cheerleaders are in their early to mid-20s. Some have cheered for several different teams.

Job Growth Trend

Unlike the Buffalo Bills, who ended their cheering program rather than give a pay raise, most NFL and NBA teams show no signs of disbanding their cheer squads. Fans love them, and they are ambassadors for the teams in the community and when they travel. So while the need for professional cheerleaders isn't expected to grow, it isn't likely to decrease, either. However, between 300 and 600 women typically audition for a team's available spots, which may be as few as a handful or at most 45, so any woman's odds of making the squad are slim.