Two weekends after the longest players' strike in American professional sports, 120,691 fans who had purchased tickets failed to show up at National Football League stadiums for games Thanksgiving Day, Sunday and last night, according to the NFL.
The figure is substantially higher than the 70,035 no-shows for the comparable weekend in last year's schedule -- Game 12 of a 16-game schedule -- and it represents a continuation of a pattern set Nov. 21 when play was resumed before less than capacity crowds after an eight-week strike.
The NFL drew 688,392 fans on the most recent round of games. The comparable figure for weekend 12 last year was 741,822.
With four weekends of NFL regular season games having now been played -- two weekends were played before the strike -- total NFL attendance this year is 3,105,287, an average of 55,451.
After four weekends of games last season (counting the Monday night game), the NFL had attracted a total of 3,332,651 fans, an average of 59,512 per game.
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle says he's not surprised by the figures.
"We haven't been back very long, and all the polls indicate the fans were very upset by the eight-week strike," he said. "The fans are still getting over their turnoff. I'm hopeful that by the time we get to the playoffs, we will have a similar interest to what we have had in the past . . . "
On Nov. 21, five days after the 57-day strike was settled, there were 115,586 no-shows at NFL stadiums as opposed to 67,995 for the comparable weekend last year. Total attendance Nov. 21 and for the subsequent Monday night game was 703,683 compared to 829,227 for weekend 11 last year.
NFL spokesman Jim Heffernan said the 881,486 fans who bought tickets for the NFL's 11th weekend last year made that weekend the best of the regular season and the fourth highest in NFL history.
He said bad weather may have accounted for many of last Sunday's no-shows and that local television may have accounted for many of the Thanksgiving Day no-shows in Dallas and Detroit.
At Buffalo's 80,020-seat Rich Stadium only 33,986 fans turned out in the rain Sunday to see the Bills defeat the Colts. At the 60,000-seat Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., 33,602 came to see the Patriots and the Oilers on a cold and windy but dry afternoon.
Last weekend, despite a daylong rain, the Redskins had a total attendance of 48,313 for their home-opening game against the Eagles, with 6,732 no-shows. The game was a sellout, the 108th straight. Last year, the Redskins averaged 3,510 no-shows.
Rozelle said he doubted attendance will match that of previous NFL seasons. "There will be continuing dissatisfaction . . . It will be up to the owners and the players to get back what we have had."
In Dallas, Tex Schramm, Cowboys president and chairman of the NFL's competition committee, said he's not surprised either. "I don't know if we'll get it all back this year," he said. "I think next year we will come back strong, and I think it would help if we had some good races this year.
"To make that happen, first we have to have an agreement ratified by the players and then get all of the union, labor, management and strike talk over and done with and gone. I think all of that will add up to things returning to normal next year."