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By ESPN Staff

Wages fall, but Premier League still spend big

LONDON, June 1 (Reuters) - Players' wages in the English Premier League fell for the first time in the 2004/05 season, according to consultants Deloitte.

The Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance, released on Thursday, found that Premiership wage costs fell three percent after rising by 20 percent each year on average in the past decade.

"Our latest analysis further supports the improving balance between revenue and costs, not just in England but also across Europe," said Deloitte partner Dan Jones.

"The need to 'save clubs from themselves' with a salary cap now seems far less important than it did five years ago."

Premier League clubs remained by far the biggest earners in world soccer and were the most profitable in Europe, generating more than 1.3 billion pounds ($2.44 billion) in revenue.

The big five leagues in England, Italy, Spain, Germany and France generated revenues of 6.3 billion euros ($8.11 billion), a growth of eight percent over the previous year.

However, only clubs in the Premier League (240 million euros) and the Bundesliga (65 million euros) posted operating profits in 2004/5.

Big-spending champions Chelsea, bankrolled by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, and Fulham were the only clubs to report operating losses in England's top flight.

"Clubs are adopting a much more realistic attitude in terms of wages, much more flexible wage bill, the use of loan players, increased performance-dependent elements," Deloitte's senior consultant Alan Switzer told Reuters.

"There's been an increasing polarisation in terms of the top players earning more and commanding higher transfer fees, and the majority of players who are getting smaller transfer fees and potentially lower wages."

Manchester United reported English football's highest operating profits although they fell from a record 52 million pounds in 2003/04 to 33 million. Liverpool's 2005 Champions League success boosted their profits to 25 million pounds.

The average Premier League club generated revenue of 67 million pounds, up from 66 million in 2003/04 and compared to just 13 million for first division clubs.

"If you strip out Chelsea, the 20 Premiership clubs on aggregate are estimated to be breaking even at a pretax profit level and that is first time they have done that since 1988-89," said Switzer. The Premier League was established in 1992.

The 'Big Five' leagues accounted for 54 percent of the revenues in the 7.8 billion pound European market, with Italy generating 0.9 billion, Germany 0.8, Spain 0.7 and France 0.5.

Deloitte warned that, for many leagues, a significant percentage of revenue was generated by a handful of wealthy clubs which was also reflected in on-field performance.

Switzer said Barcelona and Real Madrid contributed 47 percent of the Spanish league's revenues.

"European football's stakeholders need to monitor the competitive balance, both within leagues and between leagues, in order to ensure that interest in competitions is maintained going forward," the review said.