The Redskins have become a pinata for some in the media these days because of the light attendance at training camp. The crowds have unquestionably been smaller than they have been in previous years and some have taken to blaming it on fans finally becoming fed up with the tenure of Dan Snyder as the owner, losing, the lack of star power, the quarterback situation, and any number of other issues surrounding the team.
If all of that was true, then it would figure that the Redskins would be alone in having sparse crowds at training camp, right? I mean, Snyder only owns one team.
However, after conducting a quick Google search and sending out a few emails I have found that there are some other teams, orgnizations with recent success and highly respected owners, are also finding attendance at training camp practices to be considerably lighter than it has been in the past.
Here is what I found out:
New York Giants--Beat writer Patricia Traina said that attendance at practices was "way down." In fact, she said that the Giants organization asked the media covering the team to publicize the fact that camp is open to fans at no charge. Many of their practices have been at night when, presumably, a normal work schedule would not be an issue in attending. The Giants were 10-6 last year, Super Bowl champs in 2007, and are owned by John Mara, one of the most respected owners in the league.
Chicago Bears--CSN Chicago's John Mullin esimated that the crowds for Bears practices are "down 15-20 percent." Mullin said that the weather may have been a factor but he described the attendance "surprising" considering that the Bears won the NFC North and were seven points away from going to the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots--Tom Curran of CSN New England told me that attendance was "light" for the first few Patriots practices possibly because the camp schedules came out so close to the start. He said that the crowds have returned to normal.
Pittsburgh Steelers--Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote an article entitled "Lockout costing Steelers money." In it he discussed that fact that merchandise sales at St. Vincent College are anemic "because so few fans are turning out." The Steelers played in the Super Bowl last year and the Rooney family is revered by fans and universally respected by the other organizations in the NFL.
Dallas Cowboys--A report in the San Antonio Business Journal estimates that if attendance at Cowboys training camp at the Alamodome continues at its present pace, the attendance will end up being less than half of what it was a year ago. The Cowboys are, of course, according to some, America's Team. (Note: While most teams estimate camp attendance, the Cowboys get a reasonably accurate crowd count via the turnstiles at the Alamodome.)
So, there you have it. Four of the five teams are down in training camp attendance and the other one started out slow. Four of the teams had double-digit win totals in 2010. All of them are well-established NFL franchises with long traditions.
Here is one more that is very much anecdotal but interesting nonetheless. This is a picture of a very sparse gathering at a recent Tennessee Titans practice:
(h/t to @dcsportsbog)
This is not intended to be a thorough survey. I would imagine that, for example, the Eagles are drawing just fine. But certainly you can conclude that the Redskins are not alone in hearing the chirping of crickets where the roar of training camp crowds used to be.
I'm not trying to present this as a conclusive survey but only as a suggestion that there may be league-wide issues, such as the the fact that the lockout delayed the publication of training camp schedules, giving many fans insufficient notice to take off a weekday and/or travel to a practice site.