More than half of all football fans disapprove of the National Football League planning to field teams of nonstriking players and free agents, but most fans said they nevertheless would watch NFL games on television during a strike.

Preliminary results of a Washington Post-ABC News survey of 1,090 adults nationwide also indicated that neither the players nor management can claim fan support going into the strike, which began after last night's New York Jets-New England Patriots game.

In fact, nearly half -- 48 percent -- of all football fans said they favor neither side in the dispute. Almost a third of those surveyed -- 32 percent -- said they favor the owners, while only one in five has sided with the players.

"I think a large part of this {reasoning} is that fans don't know the owners," NFL Players Executive Director Gene Upshaw said. "The people who have come up to me, like a guy I saw driving a Frito-Lay truck this morning right here downtown, said, 'Stay in there and fight.' The working man identifies with us. I know not everybody feels that way, but maybe those people don't come up to me. The reaction I've gotten personally has been positive. They come and say, 'I don't want to see a strike, but . . .' "

The public's current attitude differs sharply from the eve of the 1982 strike. A Post-ABC survey before that strike found 38 percent of the fans siding with the players, 19 percent siding with the owners and 37 siding with neither. The rest had no opinion.

The most recent survey showed that a majority of football fans -- but not an overwhelming majority -- dislike the owners' plan to continue the NFL season with free agents and veterans who refuse to honor the strike. Of football fans, 56 percent said it is a "bad idea" for owners to try to play through a strike. Slightly more than two of five said it is a good idea.

Despite this generally negative impression of the owners' plan, three of five fans -- 60 percent -- said they would watch "a televised game between two teams that used nonstriking players and those who had not made the team earlier in the year."

Another 39 percent said they would not watch such games. The remaining 1 percent had no opinion.

According to the survey, about half of all American adults are football fans.

Of those surveyed, 49 percent said they tended to follow professional football, and 51 percent said they did not.

The survey also showed that large majorities of the American public have heard about the plans for the NFL strike.

More than seven out of 10 -- 72 percent -- of all of those surveyed, and 87 percent of the self-described football fans, said they had "read or heard" about plans for the strike.

This telephone survey was conducted Sept. 17-20. Margin of sampling error for a survey of this size is approximately plus or minus three percentage points for the overall results, and four percent for results based on only those who said they follow professional football. Other factors represent additional potential sources of error. For example, the overall sample contained slightly more people who had attended at least a year of college than the population as a whole, based on U.S. Census data. Such small errors, however, typically have negligible effect on the overall results. Staff writer Michael Wilbon contributed to this report.


Q. Would you say you side more with the players or more with the team owners in their contract dispute, or do you side with neither? Players 20

Owners 32

Neither 48

No opinion 1

Q. If the players' union goes out on strike, the owners say the season will continue with teams using players who decide not to participate in the strike and players who did not make the team at the start of the season. Do you think this as a good idea or a bad idea? Good idea 43%

Bad idea 56

No opinion 1

Q. Would you watch a televised game between two teams that used non-striking players and those who had not made the team earlier in the year? Yes 60%

No 39

No opinion 1