5 lowest crowds for NFL games

The NFL regularly attracts crowds in excess of 80,000 but there have been occasions when far fewer fans have been in attendance.

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Matches in the National Football League regularly top attendances of 80,000 and, in many cities, there is a better chance of striking gold than a fan getting their hands on a converted ticket.

However, there have been occasions when smaller crowds have been in attendance.

Notwithstanding the recent disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been other instances where players have been putting their bodies on the line in front of a plethora of empty seats.

It is difficult to find the true attendance figures for matches in the Super Bowl era, and the most trusted figures from the statistics gurus at the Pro-Football Reference website date back only to 1992.

So they do not include the 1987 season, which was disrupted for three weeks when the NFL Players Association went on strike and substitute players were drafted in to ensure fixtures were played.

Fans decided to stay away in support of the regular players back then and crowd numbers dwindled with several games failing to muster a five-figure gate – with the most miserable being the 4,074 souls who watched the Philadelphia Eagles lose 35-3 to the Chicago Bears that year.

However, for the purposes of this rundown, we’re looking at game since 1992, not including the 2020 campaign, with the five lowest attendances recorded being the following five matches:


  1. December 15, 1996, Cincinnati Bengals 21 Houston Oilers 13, Attendance: 15,131 
  2. October 12, 1997, Cincinnati Bengals 7 Tennessee Oilers 30, Attendance: 17,071
  3. September 21, 1997, Baltimore Ravens 36 Tennessee Oilers 10, Attendance: 17,737
  4. December 6, 1992, Indianapolis Colts 6 New England Patriots 0, Attendance: 19,429
  5. September 15, 1996, Baltimore Ravens 29 Houston Oilers 13, Attendance: 20,082


Four of the bottom five involve home matches for the Houston or Tennessee Oilers, who really were the unloved franchise of the NFL between 1996 and 1997.

They announced they would be leaving their Texas base for a new home in Nashville, and the folks of Houston decided to abandon their team, even though they were due to play at the Astrodome until the end of the 1997 season.

The 21-13 defeat to the Bengals came in Week 16 and was viewed by just over 15,000 people but by then the owners had successfully negotiated their exit, citing the dwindling crowds as the reason why they had to move.

However, their new Nashville home was not ready to accommodate them, so they had a season in Memphis at the Liberty Bell Stadium, where, again, the locals did not take them to their hearts, aggrieved that they were just taking in another city’s team for a season.

Away followers were responsible for swelling the crowds during their one-season stay and their worst attendance game when the Oilers beat the Bengals 30-7 when just over 17,000 showed up.

Their 36-10 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens two weeks earlier had also been witnessed by fewer than 18,000 people to be third on the post-1992 list of lowest attendances, while they had also had 20,082 people at the 29-13 win over Baltimore in their last season in Texas.

The only exception in this list is the 1992 game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots, which weighs in at number four on our chart.

Ten years before the Pats won the first of their six Super Bowls under Bill Belichick, they were going through a miserable time with just two wins from 12 matches and the Foxborough faithful decided they were not going to turnout in temperatures with a wind chill of -20C to watch their sorry team take on the Colts.

They did the right thing as the Colts won 6-0 with two Dean Biasucci field goals and the only reason the game was memorable was because so few people turned up.

A vastly experienced journalist, Ian has worked the beat on a number of local newspapers and covers a number of different sports for the Racing Post
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