Football fans tend to side more with the players than the owners in the contract dispute that led to a National Football League strike starting today, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News public opinion poll.

Few fans, however, approve of what had been the players' main demand until last weekend, and many express sympathy for neither the owners nor the players.

The fans overwhelmingly reject the players' contention that they should be given 55 percent of the gross revenue generated by professional football. That request had been at the center of the dispute until Friday, when the players' bargaining representatives dropped it in favor of a formula based on the players getting a specified share of television receipts.

One change that would meet with fan approval, according to the poll, is creation of a new system for handling free agents, another issue in contention between owners and players. By 2 to 1, fans say they would approve of players being allowed to change teams the way major league baseball players do -- without significant compensation being awarded to the teams that lose star athletes.

The Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone last Wednesday through Saturday. A total of 1,054 people were contacted nationwide, including 436 who said they follow professional football. These were the questions asked of those 436 people, and their responses:

"Do you favor or oppose the players' request that they get 55 percent of the gross revenue generated by professional football, or is that something you don't have an opinion on?"

Favor: 19 percent

Oppose: 40 percent

No opinion: 41 percent

"Would you favor or oppose a plan through which professional football players could change the teams they play for, the way baseball players do?"

Favor: 54 percent

Oppose: 27 percent

No opinion: 19 percent

"Would you say you side more with the players or more with the owners in their contract dispute, or do you side with neither?"

Side more with the players: 38 percent

Side more with the owners: 19 percent

Side with neither: 37 percent

No opinion: 5 percent

Theoretically, a poll of 436 people has a margin of sampling error of about 5 percent in either direction, 95 percent of the time.