Once a Flagging Football Franchise, Dallas Cowboys Hit Top of League

Low payroll and strong merchandizing put team in the money

IN a town where bigger is better and gaudy is definitely not looked down upon, Jimmy Johnson, Jerry Jones, and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys are sporting Super Bowl rings big enough to anchor a bass boat. Yes, America's team is back.

After thrashing the Buffalo Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII, the Cowboys are once again on top of the National Football League (NFL).

The future has not always looked so rosy.

Four years ago, when Mr. Jones bought the Cowboys, Dallas was awash in devalued real estate and collapsing banks. The Cowboys were a doormat for other NFL teams and Ross Perot was a businessman, not a politician. Then Jones, a virtually unknown wildcatter from Little Rock, Ark., swept into town, paid $140 million for the Cowboys, and promptly fired everybody including longtime coach Tom Landry. Dismayed fans stayed away.

But winning the Super Bowl has changed all that. The Cowboys are cashing in on their success. Next to Jones and Johnson, the most visible Cowboy is quarterback Troy Aikman. Mr. Aikman, who completed 65 percent of his passes in the playoffs without throwing an interception, will make only about $1.8 million this year - one of the lowest salaries for starting quarterbacks in the league. However, his endorsement earnings could be more than double that amount.

Another big winner is coach Johnson. A national champion in college as a player and coach, Johnson's salary was doubled after the Super Bowl to more than $1 million and he signed a book contract with a $400,000 advance. Johnson was also the chief architect of the new Super Bowl rings - 54 diamonds in three ounces of gold.

The sale of Cowboys paraphenalia has been another money spinner for Jones. Sales of Cowboys merchandise are again the highest of any team in the NFL and the four Dallas-area pro shops owned by Jones are pulling in thousands of dollars a day.

Jones has other reasons to be happy. Installing 68 new luxury boxes at Texas Stadium, each of which will sell for up to $2 million, will boost revenues dramatically. Season tickets for the '93-'94 season have almost sold out, despite a 20-percent price hike. Overall revenues for the franchise have almost doubled over the past four years from $36.2 million in 1989 to $65 million last year.

A high visibility franchise when he bought them, the Cowboys are now ranked as the most valuable franchise in American sports. In May, Financial World said the Cowboy's low payroll, Super Bowl win, Jones's control of Texas Stadium, and the team's merchandising success make it more valuable than last year's winner, the New York Yankees. The magazine estimated the value of the franchise at $165 million, an amount that Jones, who owns 100 percent of the franchise, says is too low. "I think it's worth a lot more," he said. "We are at the top of the list and that's where we should be. But the fundamentals behind why we got to the Super Bowl this year is where the value is: We have a young team, we have a team poised for a lot of years of success and we have a great stadium. All of that makes for a lot of value."

When asked if he risked his oil fortune on the Cowboys, Jones replies, "I didn't risk going broke. I risked being perceived as a loser, which for me, might have been worse." Given the Cowboys' success, he won't have to worry about either problem for a while.

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