BBefore starring as the title character in an Emmy-winning series, Ted Lasso starred in a 2013 marketing campaign for NBC after the network secured the rights to broadcast the Premier League in the United States.
The ad followed the same fish-out-of-water principle as the show it later inspired: Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis, was a red-blooded American football coach hired by Tottenham Hotspur who struggled to grasp the basics of “soccer”.
In one scene, Lasso is told by his assistant about the two most famous clubs in England.
Manchester United, he is told, are “super rich” and “everyone loves them or hates them”.
“Dallas Cowboys,” Lasso replies, playing a round of cross-sport word association.
Liverpool ‘were brilliant’, explains the assistant, but ‘have not won a title for a very long time’.
“Also Dallas Cowboys,” Lasso says.
The configuration could use an update. Liverpool, of course, have since returned to the top of England and Europe. Manchester United are more polarizing than ever – and still splashing big bucks – but the club are inspiring more schadenfreude among their rivals than they did when the announcement first aired.
The Cowboys, however, remain what they were: loved and hated in equal measure, a generation far removed from their glory days and, above all, “super rich.”
Team USA will report to training camp next week in Oxnard, Calif., to begin preparations for the 2022 season, 27 years after their last Super Bowl-winning campaign. Dallas has gone 4-11 in the playoffs since then and hasn’t made it past the second round of the playoffs. Thirteen different franchises — including two of their hated division rivals — have won the title since the Cowboys’ last championship season, and Dallas has been eclipsed this century by the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots for most of the time. all-time Super Bowl wins. There’s also been slander off the field, most recently a $2.4 million settlement stemming from allegations that a Cowboys executive filmed the team’s cheerleaders in the locker room.
But neither poor play nor scandal slowed the Cowboys’ growth. The team’s star shines brighter than the other supernovas of American sport, consuming the national consciousness to a degree that not even the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Lakers can match. Dallas will play in five prime-time games this season, the maximum number for a team to play in the marquee, and the team is an eternal A1 topic in the sports media, regardless of its record.
“They’re still ‘America’s team,'” said Kurt Badenhausen, a reporter at sports business website Sportico. “They are still the most watched team. Every network wants as many Cowboys games as possible. They have the biggest fan base in the country.
In the financial column, the Cowboys are undefeated; even in the midst of a Super Bowl drought, it’s still raining money in Dallas. The Cowboys have topped Forbes’ list of the most valuable sports franchises every year since 2016. And in a time when teams are being sold for ever-increasing sums, the Cowboys would likely have the highest price tag, if they were to. never be put on the market. Forbes pegged the Cowboys’ value at $6.5 billion, but that’s definitely too low.
Jerry Jones, the team’s indomitable owner, said in May he thought the Cowboys could make at least $10 billion on the open market – a decent return on the $150 million he paid to take over the franchise in 1989.
Jones has made it clear that he “will never sell the Cowboys,” but his exorbitant valuation of the team speaks to the financial might of America’s most popular sports league.
“It really depends on the economic structure of the NFL,” said Badenhausen, who helped launch Forbes’ annual Most Valuable Sports Franchises ranking in 1998.
The NFL is the richest sports league in the world. It brings in billions of dollars every year, most of which comes from its mammoth deals with broadcast and streaming partners, and the money is split evenly among its 32 teams. Badenhausen said the league generated about $18 billion in revenue in 2021, putting it on track to reach its goal of $25 billion by 2027. Last year, the NFL signed a $113 billion media deal with CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and Amazon that runs through 2033, a deal that will earn each team about $300 million a year.
The deal affirmed the NFL’s status not only as the biggest draw in American sports, but also as the nation’s premier entertainment attraction. Seventy-five of the 100 most-watched television programs in the United States last year were NFL games.
“The sport itself is so popular,” said Marc Ganis, a sports business consultant who has helped negotiate team sales and stadium developments throughout the NFL. “The games are competitive, the players just keep getting better and it’s something that’s become part of American culture. Without it, the rest would not fall into place.
The NFL imposes a salary cap that limits the amount of money each team can spend on players, a feature that has promoted parity on the field and brought greater profits to the owner’s box.
Badenhausen said the combination of the league’s staggering wealth and how that money is spent has resulted in higher valuations for NFL franchises than even teams with larger global footprints. More than half of the top 50 teams in the latest Forbes rankings were from the NFL, including three in the top 10.
“These big European clubs are huge global brands, but valuations don’t follow brand size because of the economic structures of these clubs and what you have to spend to be competitive,” Badenhausen said. “You have a handful of clubs in an arms race with no restrictions.”
The recent sales of the Denver Broncos and Chelsea FC illustrate this. Chelsea, one of England’s ‘big six’ clubs and based in a major European capital, left for $3.2 billion. The Broncos, ranked by Forbes as the NFL’s 10th most valuable team and located outside of a top US market, were sold for $4.65 billion.
“Chelsea is a much bigger brand globally than the Denver Broncos, but because of the economy, a second-quartile NFL team ends up outselling Chelsea,” Badenhausen said.
The economic structure that has enriched the Cowboys and the other 31 teams in the league is one that Jones played a leading role in building. In 1993, Jones orchestrated a behind-the-scenes deal with Rupert Murdoch that resulted in Fox replacing CBS as the NFL’s television partner. CBS offered the league less than it had previously paid for the broadcast rights. Murdoch, with Jones in his corner, secured the rights to Fox in a four-year, $1.6 billion deal, 60% more than CBS was offering.
“Jerry brought Fox. Fox dramatically increased the rights fee. CBS lost the NFL,” Ganis said. “A story tells you about both the Cowboys and the NFL.”
Jones sued the NFL in 1995 over league rules that limited a team’s ability to make its own endorsement deals. Seeking to capitalize on the iconic Cowboys brand, Jones negotiated stadium sponsorships with Pepsi, Nike and American Express. The NFL sued Jones, claiming these deals violated its own league-wide sponsorship agreements. Jones responded with his own antitrust lawsuit against the league, arguing that the NFL effectively ran a cartel that controlled team logos and trademarks.
The two sides settled, which allowed Jones — and all of the other league owners — to make their own sponsorship deals.
“He changed the economy of the league in terms of what teams could do,” Badenhausen said. “He went out and sold the Cowboys in the sponsorship market stronger than anyone. Thanks to that, and because they have the brand to back it up, it was able to monetize.
Under Jones, the Cowboys expanded their North Texas stronghold to create even more sponsorship deals and business opportunities. The team opened a gleaming new stadium in 2009 that seats over 100,000, and a new 91-acre training facility in 2016 that also serves as the team’s global headquarters.
The Cowboys have also been successful in growing their fan base outside of Texas. It has long been a source of amusement to many in the Lone Star State that the team has plenty of support in the Washington DC area, home of their divisional rivals, the Commanding Officers. Some attribute this to the fact that the Cowboys were an integrated team from birth, unlike Washington’s NFL team, and Dallas has a strong following among DC’s black population.
Badenhausen valued the Cowboys at $6.92 billion in his team valuation rankings for Sportico last year, and said they were poised to be “the premier sports team north- US to post $1 billion in annual revenue.
Ganis believes Jones would make at least $8 billion if he put the Cowboys on the market, saying the team’s value has been boosted by these new facilities and the general prosperity of the league.
But according to Ganis, the main reason for this valuation is the man who made the team a cash cow.
“The Cowboys are built on an extraordinary foundation,” Ganis said. “You add Jerry Jones to that chemistry, and it becomes something extraordinary on a global scale.”