Win or lose, ratings say Cowboys still America's team
Although Jerry Jones calls this season "a huge disappointment" for his Dallas Cowboys, it sure hasn't hurt the bottom line.
Based on attendance, television ratings and merchandise sales, the blue star on the shiny silver helmet remains the gold standard in the NFL and perhaps all of pro sports.
It's hardly even close.
Love them or hate them, everyone pays attention to the Cowboys, in good times and bad.
Their enduring popularity in a season that opened with visions of becoming the first team to play in the Super Bowl at home, then cratered midway through when they were 1-7 and fired their coach, proves that no matter the circumstance this franchise remains "America's Team."
"I don't know of any other team that would've gone through what they went through and provided the ratings punch the Cowboys did," said Fred Gaudelli, producer of "Sunday Night Football" on NBC.
"Dallas is way on top of the mountain."
Wins and losses are all that matter to fans, and that's foremost to folks in the front office, too. But they also monitor the financial standings, and that's where the Cowboys really dominate.
They are the No. 1 team in the nation's No. 1 sport, valued at $1.8 billion US by Forbes and at or near the top in other major fiscal categories.
The astounding part is that they've maintained that glow despite this being their 15th straight season without winning the Super Bowl, or even reaching the championship game. It is the longest drought in franchise history.
"The Arizona Cardinals have had more success lately than the Dallas Cowboys, but there isn't anyone who follows the industry that would want the Cardinals' brand over the Cowboys' brand," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based consulting company Sports Corp. Ltd.
'Keeping the Cowboys releveant'
"That's in large part because Jerry Jones is one of the great marketers sports has ever seen. He finds ways to keep the Cowboys relevant, part of the national conversation."
His latest feat was building a $1.2-billion stadium that's the most luxurious in the country, perhaps the world, and luring the upcoming Super Bowl to North Texas for the first time.
With the Cowboys coming off a division title and a rare playoff victory — their first since 1996 — Jones steered the national conversation toward whether his club would be in the big game. The Cowboys became a chic pick, which is why the pratfall was so devastating, although only in a football sense.
"In sports marketing, you generally like to keep expectations low and exceed them. That makes fans feel great and keep coming back," Ganis said.
"Jerry marches to different beat. It's part of what makes him unique. ... Missing those high expectations has not damaged the brand. It's the opportunity that was lost. One season of the kind Jerry was hoping to have this year would have had benefits for at least another decade."
It's hard to imagine the Cowboys having a stronger hold over the public.
They're already the league's No. 1 drawing card both at home and on the road. They are the only team that has played in front of a sold-out crowd every game this season.
They wrapped up their home schedule last weekend, averaging 87,047 fans per game. That is down only 3 per cent from last season, a phenomenal feat considering the 2009 total was boosted by an NFL-record crowd of 105,121 in the debut of Cowboys Stadium, another 100,621 for the regular-season finale, and the team won the division.
The size of the stadium, and the fact they sell $29 standing room tickets, helps those totals. But that's not the case when they go on the road, and they still pack 'em in. With two games left, they had lured an average of 74,246 fans per away game.
Their TV figures are equally overwhelming.
Most-watched NFL game this season? Cowboys-Saints on Thanksgiving, seen by 31.9 million viewers. Most-watched Sunday night game? Cowboys-Eagles, seen by 25.7 million. The NFL and NBC had the chance to move that game, but they knew what they were doing by leaving it right where it was. It became the most-watched game in the five-year history of "Sunday Night Football."
"You can never go wrong having the Dallas Cowboys on," said Gaudelli, who has been producing NFL games for 21 years for various networks. "John Madden used to have a saying, 'When in doubt, the Cowboys.' I think that still holds true."
In the five-year history of NBC's prime time show, the Cowboys have been featured 16 times, matched only by the Indianapolis Colts.
Deserving the spotlight
The Colts deserve the spotlight. They have Peyton Manning, winner of multiple MVP awards, and have reached the Super Bowl twice in that span. The Cowboys have Tony Romo, dater of multiple celebrities, and have won a single playoff game over the same span.
The Cowboys are such a ratings magnet that "60 Minutes" drew its most viewers of the season to that point (17.6 million) the night it featured a segment on Jones.
"Any time you have a football personality like Jerry Jones on your broadcast, you can expect some extra football fans in addition to your normal audience tuning in," show spokesman Kevin Tedesco said. "While Jones may not have been the only factor in the large audience, he was certainly a key one."
How many other owners would even get a "60 Minutes" segment?
Across all networks, six of the 14 most-watched NFL games this season have involved the Cowboys. The Michael Vick-led Eagles are the only team to get close, making four of the top 14.
This weekend, the Cowboys-Cardinals game on Christmas night probably won't crack that list because it is being shown on NFL Network. Still, it's a safe bet it will be the most-watched game on the league-owned channel.
Plenty of blue
Another reasonable guarantee is there will be plenty of blue in the crowd in Arizona, a reminder of all the souvenirs the Cowboys sell. From April 1 to Dec. 3, the Cowboys were second to the Pittsburgh Steelers in overall sales on NFLShop.com.
Among individual player jerseys sold through the site, the Cowboys were the only team with two players among the top 12 and three among the top 18. Jones said the Cowboys are responsible for one in every four pieces of NFL merchandise sold since 1975.
So, what did this season really cost them?
The lost profit from a home playoff game or two is about it.
Sure, some season-ticket holders, suite owners or advertisers could back out, but other folks would be lining up to take their place.
"In my mind, if you keep working, good things will happen," Jones said. "Even though [fans] could be critical of how I do it, how we're structured, I know they believe that we're one of the top teams. ... I want that interest, not apathy. I do think the reason that's there is because they know that I'll do whatever I can do [to win]."