Jerry Jones and each of his partners in the NFL-ownership game are in the entertainment business. That's a reality. But fans would like to think that the owner of their favorite team prioritizes winning over ticket sales.
With Jones, that doesn't appear to be the case, and that toxic approach has poisoned the Dallas Cowboys organization ever since a talent well filled by Jimmy Johnson in the early 1990s began to dry up a decade later.
The latest reminder that Jones doesn't place winning above all else came when he met with the media after Dallas' third straight Week 17 do-or-die loss Sunday night at AT&T Stadium. Details from ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon:
Jones didn’t appear to appreciate being asked if he ever felt embarrassed in the wake of the Cowboys missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season and losing a win-or-go-home Week 17 game for the third straight year.
'I don’t know,' Jones snapped. 'Would you get embarrassed if you were standing in this stadium? Seriously.'
After a moment of awkward silence, another reporter attempted to ask a question before being interrupted by Jones. 'The answer is no. Not at all.'
Making the connection between on-field failures and off-the-field successes is disturbing because the two shouldn't be in the same conversation.
"What does the beautiful $1.2 billion stadium have to do with the mediocre results the Cowboys have been getting on the field?" writes MacMahon. "The fact that Jones references the stadium when asked about the football product illustrates one of the major issues of having a marketing man serve as the franchise’s general manager."
It's obvious Jones takes personal pride in the fact the Cowboys are "America's Team." He certainly hasn't injured the brand, although it could be argued that his inability to create a winning atmosphere post-Triplets has prevented the Cowboys from becoming even more world famous than they already are.
I mean, think about how many fans this team gained in the Staubach days. Think about how many on-the-fence kids picked Aikman, Smith and Irvin over a more geographically appropriate or convenient alternative, merely because those teams dominated on the football field.
Are the Cowboys still attracting 10-year-old's nationwide the way they did in, say, 1994? Starter football fans don't often decide to get behind perennial 8-8 franchises. And so, while they're still staking claim to that America's Team moniker right here and now, that could all change when those kids become the target market and start spending their disposable 18-to-34-year-old income on another team's tickets and merchandise.
So Jones had better be careful. He continues to hire obedient but uninspiring head coaches, presumably because his ego refuses to make room for another big personality. Jason Garrett is the wallflower of the NFL head coaching world, but Jones keeps endorsing him.
And rather than investing in the coaching staff or the scouting department or in sports science or in the training staff (consider how badly this team has been hit by injuries two years in a row), Jones built the Range Rover of NFL stadiums, complete with a vanity license plate in the form of a 60-yard-long video board. That stadium sells out, and the Cowboys—despite being a perfectly ordinary 136-136 since 1997—continue to be the most popular and lucrative franchise in America's most popular and lucrative sport.
Eventually, though, those fans who jumped on the bandwagon in the 1970s or the 1990s will begin to fade. They'll get old; they'll die. And yes, many of their children will have inherited an appreciation for Cowboys football. But if the team can't start to win in places other than the box office, some of them will find alternatives.
That's why winning now is more important than Jones might realize. He doesn't have to sell this team for 2014, but he does have to make sure they're appealing come 2025. And you can't maintain sex appeal in this league without winning.
If Jones keeps focusing on glitz and glamor at the expense of the football product, he'll eventually lose his empire, regardless of how big and shiny his stadium is.