Sunderland hits profits goal as TV revenues rise

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Sunderland, the premiership club that prides itself on affordable football, set its sights on Europe as it reported a return to profitability, boosted by extra revenues from TV deals.

However, Bob Murray, the chairman of the club, cautioned that TV revenues had reached a plateau, which would make it harder for Premier League clubs to meet spiralling player wage costs. "I believe revenues will at best be flat three years down the road," he said.

Sunderland, lying 10th in the league, reduced its £23m player wage bill to 50 per cent of its turnover from 56 per cent last year. Hugh Roberts, the chief executive, said the club was "very comfortable" with that ratio and hoped to maintain it this year.

The club, which finished seventh last season and looks to have shaken off its yo-yo reputation, posted a pre-tax profit for the year to 31 July of £3m compared with a £2m loss a year earlier. Sales rose 27 per cent to £46m, helped by a 17 per cent increase in gate revenues. The club expanded its Stadium of Light ground to 48,300 for the start of this football season. It intends to add another 7,000 seats by 2003.

Sunderland said it planned to drive up sponsorship revenue, starting with announcing a new shirt sponsor in December, when its current three-year £1.5m contract with the used-car dealers Reg Vardy expires. Mr Roberts said he expected a "a significant improvement" from the new deal. Analysts attribute Sunderland's financial and league successes to the steady hand of Peter Reid, the team's manager, who is renowned for not overpaying for players. Many rivals, including Chelsea Village and Leeds United, recently reported losses this year after player costs rose higher than gate receipts and TV revenues.

Sunderland expects to spend £7m to £9m this year on building a training ground. Its shares rose 3.5p to 408.5p.