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Owners, Players Are Now in Same Boat : Attendance, TV Ratings Drop Significantly in Aftermath of Strike

October 27, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

Returns are in from the first week back to work for the National Football League, and now the striking players aren't the only losers.

Owners were hoping that the continuity provided by replacement games might cut their losses, but Sunday's attendance figures, overnight TV ratings and estimates of betting volume show significant drops:

--16% of the live gate, measured against the pre-strike Weeks 1 and 2 of this season.

--22% of their TV ratings compared to the same time last season.

--20-25% of betting volume. The NFL, of course, has no share in the action but watches it keenly, as an index of interest.

Four of Sunday's 12 games sold out, the ones at Washington, Philadelphia, Tampa and Pittsburgh. There were attendance disasters in Pontiac, Mich., where the Detroit Lions drew 27,278 for the Green Bay Packers, and Houston, where the Oilers drew 29,962 for the Atlanta Falcons.

There were also indifferent draws in San Diego, 47,972 in 60,000-seat Jack Murphy Stadium, even though the Chargers burned up strikeball and lead their division; at Miami's new Joe Robbie Stadium, which has yet to sell out and drew 61,295 Sunday, 13,000 under capacity, to see the Buffalo Bills and hometown hero Jim Kelly, and at the Coliseum, where the crowd of 52,735 was 20,000 smaller than for last season's Raider-Seahawk game.

A fifth game, the St. Louis Cardinals at the New York Giants, was listed as a sellout but a Giant spokesman said it was not, technically. The Cardinals returned 400 seats at the last minute and there was another small but ominous development.

"Some people got fed up and turned in their season tickets," a Giant official said.

Those people would have to be fed up, indeed, because there is a years-long waiting list for those tickets, and they're off it, in effect, forever.

Betting volume dropped sharply but one expert expects it to climb back up.

"It was about 75-80% of a normal week," said Michael Roxborough, also known as Roxy, who makes the NFL betting lines for 25 Las Vegas casinos. "That was what you would sort of expect.

"The people who really like to win consistently looked at these games like the first game of the season. The teams hadn't played in four weeks. The people were a little apprehensive, although they did bet.

"I think it'll be back to normal next week."

CBS' overnight ratings for its first games of the day Sunday averaged 17.9, down 18% from the seventh game of last season.

NBC's first games did a 12.1, down 21% from last season.

"We're reasonably pleased," CBS' Doug Richardson said from his New York office. "Eighteen percent is not bad under these circumstances."

How about other circumstances? Wouldn't the network have preferred no strike?

"Oh, that goes without saying," Richardson said. "You can carve that in stone.

"It was devastating for everybody. Nobody won anything from it--viewers, fans, TV networks, advertisers, players, teams. All they did was lose exposure. It's a tough road back for everybody."

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