If you’ve dreamt of being a professional cheerleader, be ready to pinch your pennies. While NFL players can make millions, the cheerleaders who perform at games have no base salary, and some teams pay only minimum wage. Lack of pay and other issues have led to several lawsuits against NFL teams in recent years.

With the premiere of America’s Sweethearts: The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, the question of how much an NFL cheerleader is paid is once again on the tips of our tongues. Here’s everything we know about a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader’s salary, and how it compares to the compensation of dancers on other squads.

How much do the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders make?

We don’t have an official number, unfortunately. NBC Sports Boston found that “on average,” a cheerleader can expect to earn around $150 per game; however, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders program apparently pays more.

Greg Whiteley, the director and executive producer of America’s Sweethearts, told Glamour, “Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders are on the highest end of that [NFL cheer] pay scale. I’ve heard horror stories of what a typical NFL cheerleader [makes], but I think the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders fall into a new category. None of them are rich. None of them are getting paid a ton, but it isn’t the same dearth of payment that I think other NFL cheerleaders have to experience.”

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America's Sweethearts: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. (Center) Kelcey in America's Sweethearts: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024Courtesy of Netflix

Salary may also vary depending on position within the squad. As Whiteley explained, “It varies depending on how senior you are in the group. You may even get paid more if you’re a group leader.”

When asked point-blank by an America’s Sweethearts producer how much money a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader makes, class of 2022 veteran Kat Puryear struggles to put the salary into perspective. “I would say I’m making like…a substitute teacher,” she says. “I would say I’m making…like a Chick-fil-A worker who works full time.”

Is cheerleading a full-time job?

Yes and no. It takes up plenty of hours but won’t pay enough to live on. Mhkeeba Pate, a former NFL cheerleader, told PopSugar in 2021, “Teams are pretty up-front that the role of being an NFL cheerleader is a part-time job so that it’s understood that [we] would have to supplement income with another part-time or full-time job…. It also is a big bragging point for a lot of cheerleading teams who promote that their cheerleaders are not just professional dancers—that they actually have careers as accountants, engineers, teachers…. They don’t squarely acknowledge that a cheerleader could never live off of the wages because it has historically never been the intention to pay them a livable salary.”

Charlotte Jones, the executive vice president of the Cowboys and chief brand officer, explains in America’s Sweethearts, “There’s a lot of cynicism around pay for NFL cheerleaders, as there should be. They’re not paid a lot. But the facts are that they actually don’t come here for the money.”

Jones implies that the dancers perform simply for the thrill of it, and for the opportunity to call themselves a member of the squad. “They come here for something that’s actually bigger than [pay] to them,” she says. “They have a passion for dance. There are not a lot of opportunities in the field of dance, and to get to perform at an elite level…. It is about being a part of something bigger than themselves. It is about a sisterhood that they were able to form, about relationships that they have for the rest of their lives. They have a chance to feel like they’re valued, that they’re special, and that they are making a difference. When the women come here, they find their passion and they find their purpose.”

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America's Sweethearts: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. (Center) Claire in America's Sweethearts: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024Courtesy of Netflix

As Tina Kalina, a DCC veteran who performed in the ’80s, put it in the docuseries, “These millennials and [Gen-Xers], they do look at it as a job, where us old-timers look at it as more of a privilege.”

America’s Sweethearts director Greg Whiteley, who spent countless hours with the DCC, says, “I find it to be a full-time job. The job is all-consuming. And the fact that they could hold down, many of them, full-time jobs in addition to it was astounding to me. We filmed—and in a couple of cases, in-depth, you’re seeing the schedule that they have to maintain to do both things. A full-time job somewhere else, and then cheer for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.” Some of the DCC members are nurses, florists, and dance instructors. One impressive dancer is even an orthodontist.

What does it cost to be a cheerleader in the NFL?

All cheerleaders are expected to maintain a certain “image,” and treatments to achieve that image —perfectly straight, white teeth and bouncy hair, for example—come out of some of the dancers’ own pockets. Some even have to pay for their own uniforms, which can cost up to $600.

“I think there are just so many people who want to do it that it makes it hard to negotiate,” said Whiteley of the consistently underpaid position. It’s a “dream job” for so many dancers that however little the team is offering, there’s someone out there willing to do it for less, or for free. “There’s no shortage of volunteers waiting to sign up to do it.”