IRVING – At the end of the 1988 NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys were looking at fourth and long without much time on the clock The team had gone 3-13 and watched attendance drop for the fifth consecutive year. Then came Jerry Jones.
The Arkansas oilman who played offensive guard on the Razorbacks 1964 national championship team, wrote a check for $90 million and changed the Cowboys playbook forever.
With three seasons under his belt, Jones’ aggressive management style has made the Cowboys a playoff team again, put fans back in the stands at Texas Stadium and moved the team’s bottom line into the black.
“This reflects the confidence that the fans have in what we’re doing at the stadium and what we’re doing with the team,” Jones said.
Season ticket sales under Jones have jumped from 38,300 in 1988 – the final year for former owner H.R. “Bum” Bright – to 50,000 for the coming 1992 season.
Another playoff season for the Cowboys, which is widely expected by the sports media, could put the team among the NFL’s elite next year, allowing the Cowboys to sell out each game before the season begins.
“We sold just over 8,000 (additional) season tickets this year,” said Joel Finglass, the Cowboys’ director of ticket sales and promotions.
“If we do next year what we have done this year, that will leave us just 2,000 tickets away. We’re getting to the point where we’re in striking distance of being sold out,” he said.
Once the team gets close, Finglass said, a decision will have to be made on whether to sell the tickets remaining as season tickets or hold them back for individual game sales.
Some NFL teams hold back tickets to accommodate fans that can’t afford to buy season tickets.
When hired before the 1990 season, Finglass began a Cowboys marketing drive featuring advertising via billboards, television, newspaper, radio, mail-out brochures and telemarketing.
“Every year we have sold more season tickets than we sold the last,” Finglass said. “Every year we have continued to have a marketing plan to sell tickets.
“If the ownership at the top isn’t committed to winning at all aspects – on and off the field – you’re wasting your time.
“Jerry has done the kind of things that you have to do to keep the fans once they are there.”
Jones’ approach has always been to try and make each game a “mini-Super Bowl.”
He’s added musical entertainment and made stadium improvements each year since he bought the team. This year he has added concessions, improved concourse decor and replaced the tent on the stadium’s corral area, a popular pregame watering hole for the Cowboys faithful.
For a team like the Cowboys, selling out ahead of the season brings more prestige than financial reward.
In fact, Finglass said it probably does more for the ticket scalpers outside the stadium than for the team because most Cowboys games will now be sold out by kickoff time.
Ironically, the biggest advantage to selling out would come if the Cowboys fell apart during the season.
Steve Matt, a partner with Arthur Andersen & Co. and head of the accounting firm’s professional sports evaluation practice, said that although the Cowboys sold just 65.45 percent of the 63,000 seats available in Texas Stadium last year as season tickets, attendance was 96.5 percent of capacity by game time.
This year, with 50,000 season tickets sold, percentage of capacity moves to 78.26 percent, above the 1991 NFL average of 70.22 percent.
“From the standpoint of incremental revenue, this increase in season ticket sales isn’t that material to them because they were selling most of their tickets anyway,” Matt said.
“In their situation, the significance is that in selling the tickets in season ticket packages – as opposed to individual single game – is that late in the year, if the team is having a poor season, you’re somewhat insulated. If you’re relying on single game sales your revenue can get hurt.
“It’s like a safety net for the event of poor team performance.”
Despite the Cowboys’ big ticket sales totals last year and the improvement this year, the team still finds itself behind compared with the rest of the league.
Teams like the New York Giants and Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs are playing in huge stadiums where piling up victories, or enticing strong fan support, results in piling up revenues.
Matt said that based on the Cowboys’ popularity and the size of the Metroplex market, the team needs a much larger stadium than its current home in Irving.
“In a market this size, they ought to have a capacity of 75,000,” he said. “A bigger stadium would allow you to have better located seats.”
Increasing capacity is not an idea that has escaped Jones.
With the Cowboys’ popularity growing, he has already looked into ways to expand seating at Texas Stadium, along with ways to cover its open roof.
Although no engineering surveys have been done, Jones said seats could be added in the upper level, below the luxury seats in the lower level and possibly near the field area.
“We have looked at expanding our seating,” he said. “We have looked at that in conjunction with what we might do in enclosing the stadium or covering the roof.
“We have not done the engineering work that would tell us how many seats we could put in there. But I can tell you, if we had several seasons of sellouts, we would look to adding more seats and probably could get it done.”
Author: Michael D. Towle; Star-Telegram Writer
Copyright 1992, 1994 STAR-TELEGRAM INC.