For the last decade and a half the Dallas Cowboys have been the NFL model of mediocrity, but not when it comes to the media, or making money for Jerry Jones.
They haven't been to the Super Bowl in 17 years. Since then they are 140-141. They are 2-7 in playoff games over that time span, and after their 2nd straight 8-8 season without a playoff appearance their owner promised an off-season where "people were going to be uncomfortable at Valley Ranch."
So far that has meant firing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and replacing him the 73-year old Monte Kiffin, who resigned under pressure at Southern Call before his son, head coach Lane Kiffin, was forced to fire him. Now the Cowboys have hired Derek Dooley as wide receivers coach, the same Derek Dooley who was recently fired as head coach at the Tennessee, where he took the place of Lane Kiffin who skipped town after just one year to head out to USC.
Also this off-season the owner had decided that head coach Jason Garrett should no longer call the plays, and they more than likely will be turned over to OC Bill Callahan.
Ever since NFL films slapped the label on the Cowboys in 1979, the franchise has worked hard to embellish and monetize the moniker. The Tom Landry/Tex Schramm era built the foundation and then when Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989, the effort went into hyper drive. His flair for getting attention, along with the Jones/Jimmy Johnson/Barry Switzer circus brought Super Bowls and countless more revenue streams to the ‘Pokes.
Jerry Jones the General Manager gets most of the blame for the 17-year walk through the NFL valley of mediocrity. Jerry Jones the businessman has still managed to keep the Cowboys relevant to the bottom line.
Win or lose Jones' Cowboys remain a lightning rod for fans, and love ‘em or hate ‘em they are still money in the bank. Over the past five seasons the Cowboys are 43-39, and in each of the five years Dallas has been ranked as the most popular pro football team in the annual Harris Poll.
Of course a 2011 poll also showed that 22% of the respondents considered the Cowboys their least favorite football team.
The Cowboys are a prime example of the notion that the opposite of love isn't hate - its apathy - and it's hard to find a football fan that is apathetic towards the Cowboys.
The Cowboys are even dominating the world of social media. Google says "Dallas Cowboys" is the most-searched NFL team, followed by Pittsburgh and the NY Giants. Dallas has over 5.3 million "Facebook" friends, 500,000 more than the next NFL team, also the Steelers.
The Cowboys are at the position much like the Yankees or Notre Dame, where on-the-field performance has little to do with their media presence. Dallas is 16-16 over the past two seasons, missing the playoffs both times, and yet they remain the strongest draw for the NFL's television partners.
The NFL is the most dominate content provider in television today. The league is a huge asset for the networks because it attracts a mostly young demographic with discretionary income to watch their games that are essentially TiVo proof. In that scenario, the Cowboys still attract the most eyeballs.
In 2012, Dallas played in 4 of the 6 most-watched NFL games. No other team played in more than 2 of the Top Ten rated contests.
Dallas in top ten watched games of regular season
1. Dallas at Washington 30.3 million (most-watched game on NBC)
2. Washington at Dallas 28.7 million (most-watched game on FOX)
5. NY Giants at Dallas 26.9 million (2nd most-watched game on FOX)
5. Pittsburgh at Dallas 26.9 million (2nd most-watched game on CBS)
It wasn't in the Top Ten in terms of overall viewers, but the Chicago at Dallas game drew 16.6 million viewers to ESPN and was the most-watched NFL game on that network.
The Cowboys lost 4 of these 5 games, which just goes to show that if you give the audience what it wants, they will turn out.
While his efforts as GM are at times laughable, Jones has been a leader in maximizing his assets in the NFL. Jones will spend money, and lots of it, if somewhat foolishly on free agent players, but brilliantly when building the franchise structure.
For instance, some NFL teams are experiencing attendance drop-offs in part because the fans are finding that watching in the warm comfort of home on an HD screen beats being at the game.
Not at the new Cowboys Stadium. It is a $1.2 billion worship of excess that is already paying dividends. The Cowboy players enter the field through a cocktail bar, fans cheering every step. It has the world's largest column-free interior, so no view of the HD screen that stretches from one 20-yard to the other is blocked.
There are shops along the concourse (including a Victoria's Secret) and even the standing room only tickets have a nice view of the field. Corporate sponsors are paying Jerry $80 million a year to be inside the stadium and that money is not a part of the NFL revenue sharing plan. The stadium was the final piece that brought Forbes magazine to name the Cowboys the first NFL franchise to be valued at over $2 billion.
When Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989, he paid $140 million. Since then all the NFL franchises have prospered thanks to the huge jump in media revenue, but no one else has come close this kind of increase in value.
As past Super Bowl Championships recede further and further in the rear-view mirror, their fading into history means little to the Cowboys marketability. The die-hard fans will still buy tickets and merchandise, and still tune in to watch their heroes in action. Meanwhile the Cowboy-haters will also tune in, hoping to see another Tony Romo 4th quarter interception.
While Jerry Jones continues this off-season to "make people uncomfortable at Valley Ranch," and continue to try and lift the Cowboys back above .500, almost 200,000 fans will pay $17-$21 a pop to tour Cowboys Stadium.
Is This A Great Country or What?