By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) - Manchester United enjoyed the biggest revenue of any European club in the last financial year after a 32 percent increase propelled them above Real Madrid and Barcelona, UEFA said in an annual report published on Tuesday.
The European Club Football Landscape report said revenues among Europe's 700-odd top-flight clubs totaled 18.5 billion euros ($22.7 billion) for 2016, compared to 16.9 billion the year before and 2.8 billion in 1996.
However, the report acknowledged that nearly half that amount - 9.1 billion euros - was generated by 30 clubs and that the financial gap between the elite ones and the rest was increasing.
English Premier League television revenues were now such that mid-table Bournemouth earned the same as three-times European champions Inter Milan.
United's revenue for 2016 was 689 million euros, compared to 521 million euros in 2015, the report said.
United were followed by Barcelona and Real Madrid (both 620 million), Bayern Munich (592 million), Paris St Germain (542 million) and Manchester City (533 million).
United's operating profit of 232 million euros was also the highest followed by Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and City.
United was also burdened with the highest net debt of 561 million euros, ahead of Benfica, Inter Milan, Juventus and Liverpool.
The report confirmed that the English Premier League enjoys by far the highest revenues in Europe, averaging 244.4 million euros per club.
Next was Germany's Bundesliga with 149.6 million per club followed by Spain (126.3 million) and Italy (100.2 million)
Revenues fell dramatically elsewhere, even in traditional football nations such as the Netherlands (26.7 million) and Portugal (20.3 million).
Greek clubs earned an average of 8.9 million euros while figures for Eastern Europe were even lower at 5 million euros for Hungary, 4.4 million for Czech Republic and 1.5 million for Slovenia.
"Once more, we cannot help but note that the polarization of commercial and sponsorship revenues between the top tier of clubs and the rest is accelerating," UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said.
"As the guardians of the game, UEFA must ensure that football remains competitive even as financial gaps are augmented by globalization and technological change."
UEFA analyst Sefton Perry said that "only a limited number of clubs are able to fully exploit the enormous commercial opportunities offered by the global market".
Sixteen of the top 20 clubs in terms of domestic broadcast revenues were English with Manchester United top on 146 million, edging out Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Bournemouth earned 99 million euros, level with Inter Milan who, along with Juventus, were the only Serie A side in the top 20.
The report confirmed that transfer spending reached record levels of almost 5.6 billion euros in the European summer of 2017, including six of the top 20 most expensive transfers ever recorded.
Arsenal were the club who made the most from paying fans. UEFA said their yield of 97.8 euros per spectator was the highest in Europe, followed by Chelsea, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Barcelona, Galatasaray, Manchester City and West Ham United.
(This version of the story was corrected to say billion in the third paragraph)
(Editing by Ed Osmond)