Chelsea's wage bill of £115m in 2003/04 is "almost certainly" the highest in world football, according to an annual financial review by Deloitte.
2003/04 PREMIERSHIP WAGES (previous year in brackets)
Chelsea: £114.8m (£54.5m)
Man Utd: £76.8m (£79.5m)
Arsenal: £69.7m (£60.6m)
Liverpool: £65.6m (£54.4m)
Newcastle: £44.4m (£45.1m)
But the other 19 Premiership clubs are, for the first time, spending less overall on players' pay - 1% lower than in the previous year.
Even including Chelsea's 110% increase in wages, the total Premiership bill went up only 7% from £761m to £811m.
It is the lowest growth rate since the Premier League was formed in 1992.
The report covers Roman Abramovich's first full season of ownership of Chelsea, so does not cover any spending last summer by new manager Jose Mourinho.
Deloitte sports business consultant Paul Rawnsley believes clubs are taking a more prudent approach to player wages.
He said: "At the top clubs the biggest stars are still being very well paid - and the amount Chelsea are paying skews the figures.
"But in the middle ground, there are not the rates of increases seen in the previous 10 years - and even decreases.
"There has also been an increase in performance-related pay.
"It would be healthier if there was a greater move to these sorts of contracts where players were rewarded for Champions League qualification or Premier League survival."
The Deloitte report states: "Chelsea total wages were £38m higher than the second biggest spenders, Manchester United, and almost certainly the highest football club wages bill in the world.
"There was a fall of 7% in players' earnings in the Championship to £138m - a reversal of an average 15% increase over the last decade.
"Player wages also declined in Leagues One and Two, by 17% and 4% respectively."
In terms of overall revenue, Premiership clubs earned £1.3billion in 2003-04 confirming it as the biggest league in Europe by a record margin.
Deloitte partner Dan Jones added: "The Premiership has a competitive advantage compared to its European rivals, most notably when it comes to attracting and retaining top-quality players.
"Premiership and Football League clubs have also had success in reining back costs, particularly wages, and in doing so have improved the profitability of English professional football."
Manchester United were again top of in terms of revenue generation with £172m - the most for any club in the world.
But Chelsea, with £144m, narrowed the gap.