ARLINGTON, Texas -- It’s more than an NFL stadium. It’s the gleaming new home of the Dallas Cowboys, a $1.2-billion palace with glass walls, a translucent retractable roof, two quarter-mile-long arches and a high-definition video screen that stretches from one 20-yard-line to the other.
The place has all the over-the-top features you might expect from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the modern-day P.T. Barnum of the sports world.
It’s the Y’all Mahal.
“The Cowboys have never been about checkered tablecloths and boots and hats,” Jones says. “They’ve been about glitz and glitter. Leave the other stuff to the Houston Texans.”
Nobody does glitz and glitter quite like Jones, who recently spent two hours touring me around the stadium site. The place will be ready for the start of next season, and will be the site of the Super Bowl in 2011.
To envision the stadium, imagine taking a football and splitting it lengthwise. Now, pull it apart so there’s a space in the middle. That’s where the field is, and there are open areas at each end where Jones plans to create party plazas, each 3 1/2 acres. There typically won’t be seats there, only cocktail tables. Fans will be able to buy standing-room tickets to watch from areas high above either end zone, walking in and out of glass doors big enough for an airplane hangar. Or they can picnic outside and follow the action on gigantic video screens.
You get the feeling Jones could spend all day every day at the place, marveling at the way the stadium’s glass skin picks up the colors of the Texas sky like some colossal chandelier.
“Whether it’s a gray sky or a blue sky, whether it’s sunny or an overcast day, if you think about it, those are the colors of the Dallas Cowboys,” he says. “We have the blues, the grays, the silver. So the sky does it.”
And, when it comes to this stadium, at least a quarter of which is publicly funded, the sky’s the limit. From the swooping design features to the forehead-slapping gewgaws that make you think: only in the world of Jerry Jones . . .
On the center-hung video screen, the players are 72 feet tall.
An entire wall of each field-level suite is a screen that, thanks to special in-house cameras, replicates the view the coach sees from the sideline.
The building has 3 million square feet of air-conditioned space -- three times as much as the soon-to-be-mothballed Texas Stadium -- and can be configured to seat 125,000 spectators, almost twice as much as a typical NFL stadium.
There are other new venues cropping up around the league -- most notably the $1.3-billion stadium being constructed for the New York Giants and Jets at the Meadowlands parking lot -- but the home of the Cowboys makes most others look like guest quarters.
Jones says his is the world’s largest indoor stadium, and it also has bumped up the bar for the next generation of NFL venues. The gigantic video board, for instance, could become a standard feature for this type of mega-project. At least the proposed stadium concepts in the Los Angeles area -- the latest being Ed Roski’s venture in Industry -- don’t require air conditioning throughout.
While driving his black Lincoln Town Car around the stadium for the umpteenth time of the day, Jones himself becomes so distracted talking about it that he nearly plows through a barrier of hazard cones. I see it coming and, panicked, jam on the imaginary brakes from the passenger side.
“Whoa!” he says, stopping just in time. “Thanks for telling me.”
“But I didn’t say anything . . .”
“No,” he says, “but you were like a receiver, and I was the DB. I could read it in your eyes.”
Jones’ instincts have made him wealthy beyond belief. When he bought the Cowboys in 1989 for $150 million, he says the franchise was losing $1 million per month. Now, thanks not only to the popularity of the league but to his marketing and the sponsorship deals he has cut on the side, it’s the NFL’s most valuable team.
According to Forbes magazine’s latest valuations ranking, the Cowboys are first at $1.6 billion, followed by the Washington Redskins at $1.5 billion and New England Patriots at $1.3 billion.
And the richest is about to get richer. In an analysis published Sunday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Jones stands to make a staggering amount on personal seat licenses alone. The report says that if he sells all 55,000 PSLs at costs ranging from $2,000 to $150,000, he could haul in $735 million -- and that’s without including the price of a ticket.
Jones is paying $750 million of the stadium’s cost, and the city of Arlington is providing most of the rest through voter-approved bonds that will be paid back from portions of sales, hotel occupancy and rental-car taxes.
Jones says he could have built a stadium for as little as $750 million that would have been suitable. But he wanted more.
“Only a small percentage of Dallas Cowboys fans will ever come into this stadium,” he says. “The majority will enjoy it through the perception of the stadium. It’s how John Madden talks about it. It’s how Al Michaels talks about it. It’s how Troy Aikman talks about it. The wow factor.”
The real wow for me comes when we step into temporary offices just off the construction site. There, in two trailers, Cowboys sales reps are pumping the phones to sell PSLs and suites for the new stadium.
The nerve center is really buzzing on this day because the team is coming off a big “Monday Night Football” win over the Philadelphia Eagles, and the marketing department has just launched a website to sell tickets.
No owner in the NFL knows sales and marketing better than Jones. He introduces me to Chad Estis, who’s overseeing the ticket sales.
“This guy,” Jones says, “between him and Tony Romo, if I had to get rid of one, that would be a hard call for me.”
I learn why.
Estis tells his boss that his staff has just sold a bunch of Founders Club memberships at $150,000 a pop -- all before lunchtime.
Although Jones’ mouth opens ever so slightly, he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t need to.
Like a DB, I can read it in his eyes.