Cowboy Deal Based on Economics, Not Emotion
Jerry Jones figured his time to own a professional sports franchise had passed: prices were rising, tax benefits were falling and the only team he wanted -- football’s Dallas Cowboys -- seemed forever unavailable.
Then came Texas’ real estate collapse, turning team owner H.R. “Bum” Bright cash poor and suddenly, the Cowboys were being shopped around by Salomon Brothers Inc., which peddled “America’s Team,” a stadium and top-of-the-line training facility for about $225 million.
So on Feb. 23, in a move he says was based on economics and not emotion, Jones opened his checkbook, shelling out more than $100 million of his own money to become an NFL team owner. The total package, including minority partners’ interests, came to between $140 million and $160 million, he said.
Jones, who was not on Salomon’s list of potential buyers, immediately angered fans by firing the venerated Tom Landry, the only coach in the 29-year history of the franchise. He replaced the local hero with Jimmy Johnson, his teammate on the undefeated 1964 University of Arkansas football squad.
There quickly followed the wholesale departure of almost everybody connected with the team, from General Manager Tex Schramm to the trumpet player who opened each home game with the Star Spangled Banner.
Jones stunned other owners when he paid $11.04 million to sign first-round draft pick Troy Aikman to a multiyear contract. A year earlier, the top pick got about $8 million.
He even tinkered with the reputation of the Cowboy Cheerleaders, suggesting by some accounts that the women should bare a little more skin, and associate more freely with the players. He backtracked on that, but not until 14 veteran cheerleaders had resigned in protest. All but one eventually returned under a new director.
“Changes were needed,” he said. “I don’t want to be shackled by traditions of the past. I want to honor them.”
Jones quickly became the object of derision in town, with one newspaper column headlined: “Cowboys’ Jones seeks aid in extracting foot from mouth.”
In some circles, Jones’ aggressive management style, a neo-hillbilly accent and his alma mater’s mascot, the Razorbacks, earned him the moniker “Boss Hog.”
Were the moves the bumblings of an inept Arkansas hick? So said many proud Texans who watched their love dismantled by a native of a state they love to deride.
Or were they actions of a shrewd businessman, calculated to drum up interest in a losing team facing declining attendance?
Listen to Jones:
“I deliberately, I’m not going to say am controversial, but I made a very conscious decision when I made the investment I made in the Cowboys to be very out front. And this is the entertainment business, and it is sports entertainment and we must and will be competitive and we’re going to be fun, and we’re not going to be quiet.”
“I submit to you that the Cowboys have had more visibility, that is, potential marketing opportunities, both locally and nationwide in the last five months than any time in the last several years,” Jones said.
Jones notes that season ticket sales already have reached last year’s 40,000 level with eight weeks left before the season’s first home game.
More than 60 of the 118 luxury suites ringing Texas Stadium also have been sold for the year and officials expect to top 100.
The Cowboys’ exhibition season opener Aug. 13 will be shown on national television, and Jones said, “it would not surprise me at all to see a lot more people tuning in to watch our cheerleaders’ first game after the events of the last few days.”
Unlike some past owners of pro sports franchises, Jones looks at the Cowboys not as a toy to be enjoyed as a Sunday afternoon plaything, but as an “economic opportunity.”
“The opportunity does not lie in the potential of the Cowboys, or the stadium, to make inordinate returns,” he said. Keeping up with inflation will be good enough.
“The real economic opportunities are in the marketing opportunities that surround the Cowboys,” he said -- Cowboys coaches clinics, Cowboys this, Cowboys that.
There’ll even be a Cowboys bank. Jones called a news conference to announce he signed a deal with First City Bancorp. of Texas where the bank will provide $60 million in financing for the stadium, plus an undisclosed amount for the team itself.
As part of the agreement, Houston-based First City gets to bill itself as the bank of the Cowboys.
Jones’ out-front status with the Cowboys contrasts sharply with the style he followed at Arkoma Exploration Co., the private oil company that is the current basis of his wealth.
At Arkoma, Jones said he delegated responsibility and concentrated on sales and finances.
But for the Cowboys, “I don’t mind saying I’ve been involved in more detail and been involved in more specific work than at any time in the last 15 years of my life,” he said.
Jones says that will change, but only after he learns the football business. “It’s real hard for me to be comfortable unless I feel like I’ve got a personal feel for what goes on in the different areas of operation.”
And the 46-year-old Jones intends to be around for a while.
“The Cowboys represented to me something that I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” said Jones, who was a co-captain on Arkansas’ 1964 team. The Cowboys represented to me the very best in a sport that is the most important sport to me that there is.”