How The Dallas Cowboys Used Free Dry Cleaning To Become The Most Profitable NFL Team

In the spring of 1990, the Dallas Cowboys organization was losing $75,000 per day. Jerry Jones, relatively new to the helm as an NFL owner, knew he needed to do something. So, Jones turned to what he knew:  Family.

At the time, Jones’ daughter, Charlotte Jones Anderson, was a recent Stanford graduate working to carve out a career for herself in Washington, D.C.  “I wanted to find a way to make a difference; I wanted to change the world,” she recalled.

Shortly into her tenure as an administrative assistant to an Arkansas congressman, though, Jones Anderson got a phone call. It was her father. He needed her to come home and help with his new team. “I said, ‘Why do you want me there?  I don’t know anything about this.’ And he said, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about it either. I know that I love the game, though, and am passionate about it and I need people around me that I can trust, who will lay around at night trying to figure out how to make it work,” Jones Anderson remembered.

With that, Jones Anderson packed up her belongings in D.C. and moved south to Texas. Shortly thereafter, the long nights of lying awake trying to solve the Cowboys’ fiscal issues began for Jones Anderson, who currently serves as the team’s executive vice president and chief brand officer. “They didn’t hand me a manual about how to run an NFL team. There was no sports marketing at the time. The only direction he ever gave me, was to find a way to stop losing money and whatever I did, to not tarnish the star. That was it. Then, I never saw him for a long time, because he had plenty of fires to put out with football,” Jones Anderson said.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the newly minted graduate had a sense of where to turn to stop the Cowboys’ financial problems. “I realized that everyday we were losing $75,000.  That will make you lie awake at night and ask what you’re going to do the next day.  I went back to accounting and said, ‘Show me the budget.’ I circled the biggest red letter item on it, which turned out to be training camp. We were out in California and it was costing several millions of dollars to be out there. I said that moving it back to Texas would make it less expensive and we could rebuild locally, so we did that,” Jones Anderson noted.

Beyond relocating the Cowboys’ training camp to Texas, Jones Anderson had another idea to not only cut losses, but potentially generate revenue. “I looked at our entire budget for training camp. I looked at each little thing, like what it cost to dry clean players’ uniforms and feed them. I started with the dry cleaning. I went down to the local dry cleaners’ location, knocked on their door and said, ‘There will be tons of people watching our practices. If we let you put up a sign at our practices, will you dry clean our clothes for free?’ They agreed to! One barter turned into another, and before I knew it, I could zero things out. All of the sudden, we felt a shift in momentum,” Jones Anderson explained.

In that moment, Jones Anderson not only landed the Cowboys’ first sponsorship deal, but secured a way of doing business that the team would adopt going forward. That way of business is one in which Jones Anderson and the Cowboys look at every relevant chance to maximize revenue making opportunities for the team. Thus far, the strategy has proven successful. In 2014, Forbes ranked the Dallas Cowboys as the NFL’s most valuable team, at $3.2 billion.

These days, though, revenue making opportunities for the Cowboys span much wider than free dry cleaning. Rather, one of the biggest revenue producers for the team has been its ability to secure hosting rights for major events. From 2014-15 alone, the Cowboys and AT&T Stadium hosted the Final Four and NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship, along with the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.  Yet, just like the team’s dry cleaning deal, Jones Anderson is the major force behind the Cowboys’ and AT&T Stadium’s ability to land these deals. “When we built the stadium, we knew we needed it to be more than just the home of the Dallas Cowboys. We knew that for us to be successful as a venue, we had to attract events of all kinds here and that they had to be the best of the best. Our goal and effort from when the first shovel hit the ground, was figuring out our plan of attack in putting our name in consideration to host these games,” Jones Anderson said.

Jones Anderson has been involved in the pitch presentations made to land the hosting rights for both events. According to her, one thing that was central to the Cowboys and AT&T Stadium landing both events was their focus upon fan engagement. “Everyone has a lot of confidence that AT&T Stadium is the most unique place to see an event and that it provides something you can’t get anywhere else. We are all about finding, creating and expanding upon what the fan experience is, and giving people a reason to get out of their house and away from the big screen television to have an experience here that they can’t elsewhere,” Jones Anderson noted.

To ensure that fans are enjoying the best possible experience while attending events at AT&T Stadium, the Cowboys engage in significant amounts of fan surveying. One method by which the team surveys fans is through its AT&T Stadium app, which allows fans to provide instantaneous feedback about their experiences. Through this feedback, Jones Anderson and the team realized that fans’ experiences these days are largely shaped by their ability to connect on WiFi at games and share about their experiences on social media in real-time. “Research shows that college sports fans enjoy being connected even more so than NFL fans.  They are glued to their devices and want to be able to communicate with friends inside and outside of the stadium before, during and after the event,” Jones Anderson explained.

With that knowledge in mind, after the Cowboys’ regular season, the team and its partner, AT&T, worked to expand the stadium’s connectivity. “Together with our partner, AT&T, we decided that capacity should be expanded, because we found that in the college atmosphere there is a stronger engagement than in the professional atmosphere. We never wanted to be at maximum capacity, so we invested mutually with AT&T to keep expanding our capacity so that we never are at the edge of it. The most important thing for us is to be on the cutting edge of technology, which is why AT&T is our partner. Partnering with them assures us that they will drive what is new and out there,” Jones Anderson said.

Luckily for fans, Jones Anderson and AT&T’s prediction about WiFi usage was correct. According to AT&T, total data usage during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game from the venue specific DAS and Wi-Fi networks at the stadium was more than 6.34 TB. That amount of data is equivalent to 18.1 million social media posts with photos. Notably, data traffic at the College Football Playoff National Championship Game was up 107-percent from the Wi-Fi and DAS combined when compared to average regular season Cowboys games.

For Jones Anderson and the Cowboys, hosting major events continues to be part of the team’s blueprint for financial success. “We look at this building and we believe that we are the number-one spot in terms of capacity, technology and fan experience. What drives everyone’s event success is how fans feel when they’re at the event, when they’re getting there, how they experience the game and what their take-away is when they leave the game. When you do a lot of surveying of fans, like we do, you want people to come in and say they’ve never had an experience like this one. When you set that kind of bar, then hopefully your fans will keep coming back, you’ll keep getting events like this and it’ll be a success for everyone,” Jones Anderson said.

 

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