Depending on the league, semi-pro football players can make a few thousand dollars in a season, to over $100,000 in some unique cases. Many leagues have struggled to remain financially viable including several arena leagues along with more traditional football organizations like the Alliance of American Football which failed to make it through its first year. But others like the XFL have shown promise and their average salary is over $60,000 per season as of 2023.
While my playing career ended with high school, I’m not sure if I’d have wanted to chase a semi-pro career even if I’d had the skills to compete in one. The uncertainty of the leagues and my roster spot would be too stressful and the pay just doesn’t seem good enough to justify it.
But if you are looking to get paid to play football, how much can you realistically expect to make? We’ll look at the average salary of a few leagues and why there’s such a difference in the wages between many of them.
- Semi-pro football players can make as little as a few hundred dollars per game to over six figures.
- The XFL is probably the most financially reliable league at the moment with an average salary of over $60,000.
- When you incorporate the training, travel, practice time, and other commitments, many semi-pro football players will likely need a second job to support a family.
What is a Semi-Pro Football Player?
For the purpose of this article, we’ll consider “semi-pro” any athlete who is compensated for playing American football, but whose wage isn’t enough to consider it their entire profession. In all likelihood, they consider this a part-time job and an opportunity to play the sport they love with a slim chance of landing a more lucrative contract in the National Football League or Canadian Football League.
There are several arena football leagues throughout the United States. These vary a great deal in organization and stability. One such league had a team in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska a few years ago. But it quickly dissolved halfway through their opening season for financial reasons. Others are a more reliable source of income, such as the Arena Football League which has a longer tradition of success and plans on relaunching in 2024. 
Several other leagues have tried to gain a foothold in recent years with seasons that start late winter or early spring at the end of the NFL season. Some of these like the Alliance of American Football (AAF) failed to make it through week 8 of their inaugural season. 
But the XFL has managed to survive for multiple seasons with eight teams competing as of 2023. 
This has given semi-pro football players a league to compete in that closely resembles the NFL and serves as an unofficial minor league where NFL teams can scout for undiscovered talent.
How Much Do Arena League Players Make?
Because the size and financial power of arena football leagues are so variable, there’s a wide range of potential wages for their players. Like the NFL, salaries are based on the player’s position and experience.
Starting out, many arena league players make less than $1,000 per game with a typical starting salary of around $775. Some leagues provide additional bonuses of a couple of hundred dollars for premium positions like quarterback. 
Some of the more lucrative leagues like the Indoor Football League can afford to have larger salaries with top-end players making upwards of $200,000 with an average salary close to $40,000. In many cases, that’s still probably not quite enough to be considered a full-time job, especially if the player has a family. 
How Much Do XFL Players Make?
Many XFL players have a base salary with several incentive options that can boost their salary. The average XFL player can expect to earn about $60,000 per season. This averages out to roughly $5,000 per week during the season with an additional $1,000 bonus for every victory. Additionally, bonuses are included for players on teams that qualify for the playoffs and players on the championship team earn even more financial compensation.
This gets XFL players tantalizingly close to being considered “professionals” and some players may be able to get by without any additional work. But the XFL’s salaries are still dwarfed by the NFL where just being on the practice squad can pay upwards of $12,000 per week. 
When you incorporate all the training, travel, and extra work that goes into a football season, being a semi-pro football player probably isn’t as lucrative as it can appear. Add in the uncertainty of many league’s long-term health or even a player’s roster spot, and I have to imagine that it can be stressful, although the chance at a potential NFL contract has to be alluring.
If you had the physical ability, would you want to play semi-pro football? Would you prefer a more traditional league like the XFL or an arena league? Let us know in the comments below.