Everything's big in Texas. So the term, "it defies description" is totally apropos when it comes to Jerry Jones' new 1.1 billion dollar baby, "Cowboys Stadium."
It contains the largest:
- Domed structure in the world
- Operable glass doors (each 120' high)
- HD LED display (72' high by 160' wide.)
Those attributes are only a few of the many elements that set this 100,000 seat venue apart from the competition. Part museum, part night club and part sports stadium, the goal was to make something extra ordinary - and he has succeeded. The owner of America's Team glows with pride when talking about this media center that will be do more than be home to the Cowboys. George Strait, The Jonas Brothers and the World Football Challenge have been a few of the events held there in preparation for the first Cowboys game on August 21, 2009. And while there are still sections of the stadium that are under construction, it's not hard to imagine Mr. Jones walking around at any time of day or night checking on every detail, right down to the light bulbs. Not unlike the stadium, Mr. Jones is larger than life. This self-proclaimed delegator with a "meddling reputation" is totally approachable and down right neighborly. But he sets the bar very high for himself and the organization - the yearly goal of winning a Super Bowl is anything but ordinary.
The "I Am" Q&A
What car do you drive?
I drive a Lincoln Town Car.
What’s your favorite place to go?
What web site do you like to visit.
What was your worst moment in business?
Being informed by my drilling attendant that we just hit a dry hole on a sure thing.
What’s your favorite drink?
What’s your favorite food?
What’s your idea of fun?
I enjoy being with my family and hunting with my children.
And at work?
Watching a good game plan be effective in beating the Giants or the Eagles or the Redskins.
What personal weaknesses do you forgive in someone?
Ambition, fear, apprehension.
What business weaknesses do you forgive in someone?
Risk, the tolerance for ambiguity.
What movie star do you like?
Who’s a business hero of yours?
What personal qualities do you admire in life?
Tenacity, blind faith, and good advice.
And what personal qualities do you admire in business?
Honesty. I’d say honesty.
What was your greatest moment in business?
Buying the Dallas Cowboys.
And what about your greatest moment in life?
I think my greatest moments in life are family moments, births and, and marriages.
What is your dream?
Super Bowl. I traded it all for the three I’ve got, I'm trying to remake the deal to get one more.
Do you have a motto?
I don’t, no, I don’t have one.
And what is your present state of mind?
Very committed, committed to win.
When did you first think of owning the Dallas Cowboys?
You know, I had thought, when Clint Murchison saved the Cowboys, which was five years before I became involved. I remember reading that, and I said, well, it’s passed me by. That was the team… that is the team that could have motivated me to reach for it. I had thought I had danced with the devil when I bought the Dallas Cowboys. It was hard times, not dissimilar from where we are right now. In the Dallas area alone, banks were going broke right and left. Very few survived. Buildings were half finished. That really was the opportunity that I had to become involved with the Cowboys. And so I had early on, for many, many years to be some part, some way, of the NFL. And then when Mr. Bright, who had bought them from Clint Murchison, decided to sell, that's when I got on board.
And what of your family, what was their reaction when you said this is what you wanted to do?
We went, my daughter was working in Washington DC, and my son was going to school at Georgetown, and my entire family met at the Reagan inauguration. And I sat down with them and I said, you know, this may change our life. It is, is a world that we haven't been in, and I want to buy the Dallas Cowboys. And I want to, not only as an investment, but I want to change my occupation. I want to spend my life coach- (winks) managing the Dallas Cowboys.
Do you remember your first day on the job, what that was like?
I do. Well, I remember the first night, I remember the announcements that, , we would be buying the Cowboys, and , also we would be changing our coach. I do remember literally how difficult it was to remember how to get around our training complex. I guess it was the euphoria of being involved that. I, The first thing I did when I decided to buy them, was go downstairs and pick my wife up at our hotel. And we got in the car, I was in the shotgun seat, Mr. Bright was driving, my wife got in the back seat, and he turned around to her and said, Jean, I want to shake hands with the new owner of the Dallas Cowboys. And that was the first time my wife realized that we had bought the team.
Do you run your organization the same way a coach runs a football team?
Well, I believe in delegation, contrary to popular opinion. I think, in order to delegate, you have to have real knowledge of everything that’s going on. And that's where I think I get such a hand’s on, if you will, in sports, meddling reputation. I really feel very strongly that, , being on the sideline, looking in the player’s eyes, seeing them in the heat of battle, not only observing, but getting a sense of where their passion, where their energy is. I think that’s like being on the floor of the manufacturing company. I’ve always been amused by the fact that I got criticized for literally almost being in the huddle. Because after all, ultimately I’ve got to make the decisions that impact those areas so much. My management style is one that I certainly do delegate, and I don’t like bright lines. I don’t like clear, precise lines of of input or authority. I like blurred lines, and I like to encourage my managers and my associate to cross over the, those lines, and think proprietary about the entire operation that we’ve got.
Blurred lines are OK as long as it doesn't happen with officials, right?
Well, again, I know one thing, I'm a marked man, and we have a, white lines that keep camp personnel in certain areas on that sidelines. If you step outside them, sometimes you might have a brush with an official, or even a player on the field of play. Now they would make an example of me like nothing that you’ve ever seen. So, I watch those white wines and make them real bright lines for me, and stay within them when we’re having a game.
How much of your drive was motivated by the fact that you're going to have to prove people were you wrong about you? And is that kind of motivation a good motivator?
Well, I'm, I’ve been motivated, I’ve been motivated by fear all of my life, and the concern of having written a check with my mouth that I couldn't cover with my action. And so, when I really want to do something, I first start talking to the mirror, and then the next one that hears it, I know that I'm on my way down that, down that course of action. But fear is an important part of my motivation, in, on a personal basis. I know that the guy in the mirror is the one that is the biggest challenge. I hide things from myself. I hide, I try to protect assets, for instance, so that I won't become too excited in an area, and reach over and, and use them, so that there is a real fear factor, and I think that it’s been a real plus in my life. I know that early on, the combination of my activity in sports, I was really fortunate to be a part of really great sports teams. When I was in college I played on a national championship team. I had great teammates, and, we all pretty much were the same. And, consequently our coach, Coach Frank Broyles was such a motivator. And that really carried through with me in my early years in business, and then again it engendered the idea of me wanting to combine business that I had trained myself for principally, and sports, and, that's why I thought that I could become a part of the future of the Dallas Cowboys.
Can you talk about that, that fear… obviously the highs are high when you win, and emotionally difficult when you lose. What is the most important thing about failure to you?
Well, first of all, football just as a sport, as a game, it’s not natural. Natural is get out from in front of three hundred pounds, not get over in front of it. That’s unnatural to stay there. So you’ve got to put yourself in unnatural situations. Both on and off the field. In addition, so much of football is disappointing. It’s a physical game, you have a lot of injury, you have a lot of time when you don’t feel like it. As a matter of fact, almost from the day the season begins, you don’t feel like playing your best, and so you’ve got to overcome that. And, I think overcoming the natural things you might do is a big part of success. We call it, don’t ever run around the block. If somebody’s trying to take you to the left, then you’ve got to go through the block. If you oblige them and go to the left, you’ve done just what they want you to do. There’s a lot of that dynamic in business, there’s a lot of that dynamic in the professions. But, but again, football, in my mind, and the sport, conditions you, , to risk/reward. And the most important thing is you just have a fraction of good days. You just have a fraction of feel good times. And so when you have it, you make it everything you can, make it bigger than life, because it’s got to carry you through the majority of the time when things aren't going good. Now that’s the game of football, and frankly, that's been my experience in the business world.
This is an amazing facility, there is tremendous risk. Tell me about the sense of accomplishment and the sense of pride you feel right now.
Well, first of all, when I first bought the Dallas Cowboys, the economy was very similar to what it is today, and , it, there was tremendous risk involved. I paid more for the Dallas Cowboys than anyone prior than that had ever paid to get involved in sports. But I wanted to be a part of the future of the Dallas Cowboys. And when I saw it actually work, when I saw it, when I was able to digest the fundamentals, and at the end of the day, things have to be financially sound. It’s hard for any family, it’s hard for any individual, it’s hard for any church, anybody to be their best, be their most imaginative, when they're off balance financially. And so, when the cowboys became financially sound, and they weren't when I bought them. The team and the stadium were losing a million dollars cash a month when I bought them. Yet, the interest alone on my capital investment in the cowboys was over seventy-five thousand dollars a day. Now, that’ll get you up early, and that’ll cause you to win a Super Bowl in about three years too. You're motivated to go and blow. Well, the, the, dancing with the devil so to speak, that risk at that time, when I saw that they were going to live to tell about it, that we, we had bought the Cowboys, I said I will never dance there again. I’ll never use him, I’ll never have him as a partner again. Well, along came the opportunity to build this stadium and I’ll never forget, as a young man we were working out, preparing to come to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl, and I toured the Astrodome. There hadn't been an event in it, a game played in it, but it was ready to go. And I’ll never forget, it’s like walking in the second level here, and I saw that Astrodome, and I was like twenty years old, and I thought, this is like going to Mars. You could run through anybody if you had a chance to be in a stadium like this. And so that had always been in my mind in terms of thinking after having bought the Cowboys, and the Cowboys being the franchise they are, what if you had a chance to build a stadium? What would it be like.
What was that moment for you, when you said, “OK, it’s time”?
Well, I think that ten years ago, the idea of building a new stadium was at the forefront, and there’s a lot of constituency involved, there’s a lot of timing involved, but I started thinking about it ten years ago. The design of this building was something that was, really on the doodle, doodling board eight or nine years ago. It needed to be contemporary, it needed to be about the future, it needed to have a wow factor. This is the Dallas Cowboys. That (the stadium) could have been done for three quarters of the cost, let’s say seven hundred and fifty, eight hundred million dollars, without being careless about tossing dollars around. But this stadium will be perceived by millions of people that never come to it. And it will be described in the perception of the stadium by the color people that are, are talking about the events, or covering the events. And that's why, that the investment was made in the curtain wall, the esthetics of the outside of the stadium, the entrances to the stadium, the retractable glass doors. , all of those things were the wow factor. The basic way the stadium is finished out, had the care we’ve taken. We’ve got finish out’s in lobbies that look like the lobby of a fine hotel. And that was done so that we could basically portray the Cowboys and the home of the Cowboys that in a way, in its way, is exciting to our fans. The Bears have a certain persona, Green Bay has a certain persona, the Cowboys have a glitz and glitter persona. So, first of all, we wanted the, stadium to reflect the future, we wanted it to be contemporary, but more important than all of it, is we wanted it to reflect media. Since I’ve been involved in the NFL over the last twenty years, to separate how we have evolved with technology, and how we have evolved with, with just sheer entertaining ideas that are great for our fans to watch, the NFL, that has evolved and been a part of every day of my life. I'm the chairman of our network committee, I'm chairman of the of what we do to portray our games. With that in mind, I wanted this stadium to reflect media, TV, the portrayal of the games, and I think that has a lot to do with the design of the stadium.
Well, you’ve certainly accomplished that. How would you put it in a nutshell, how would you describe the feeling you have when you look at this place - how does it make you feel?
When I think of our stadium, I see a stadium that has a, a certain reserved aspect to it. A tailored look. And when I think that there’s three million square feet here, and I think that it can hold over a hundred thousand people, then, , I feel good about that. We have many varied ways for people to watch the games. We’ve gone to great deal of lengths to coordinate the colors in the stadium. And if you look at the, at the, at the bowl, you’ll see not only coordinated, but you won’t see any gaudiness. And that was very important to us. We’ll get the color, we’ll get the excitement when the Dallas Cowboy fans come in, and the people who come to events here come.
You’ve told me what it looks like - tell me about what it feels like when you see it…
Well the, the just sheer opportunity, the privilege, to get to build a unique venue like a sports stadium, not an office building, not a multi-family building, not a hotel, but to be able to get to be a part of this, and I mean that. I don’t feel like I own the Dallas Cowboys. I know what it’s like to own something. I'm just getting to run with the ball for a little while. You don’t own Notre Dame, you don’t own the University of Texas. You just husband it for a little while. And that’s exactly the way I feel about the Cowboys, and that’s the way I feel about this stadium. But this stadium should be a source of pride. I wanted it to be that way, that's why I’ve even incorporated the contemporary art that we have in here. Many of our fans when they come in are going to look at many of the art pieces and stadium and say, now, what’s that got to do with the football, with the quarterback? What’s that got to do with the tackle, or a first down? Well, the facts are that the interest in sports, the visibility in sports can transcend that interest, and create an interesting aspect to that, so that when we win, and we win the championship, or when we win a ball game, our fans can say, yeah, you can do it that way too. I know how the Raiders do it, I know how the Green Bay Packers do it, this is the glitz and glamour of the Dallas Cowboys, that’s the way they do it.
What was the inauguration like?
Well, first of all, as I did when I bought the Cowboys, I couldn't sleep. And couldn't sleep for weeks thinking about all of the details. We had one area of this stadium that required a certain inspection, for instance. And the inspectors had to cover one million inspections in the stadium, so that the decisions that are involved in a project like this are numerous, especially if you are into paying attention to detail. And so not only from the stand point of the excitement of opening the stadium, and of having the first event, and having people and fans and customers come in, but just from the standpoint of the detail of how it was going to perform, how we were going to operate the stadium, is a big thing. It’s akin to, it really is, I’ve had a chance to be involved in, and be a part of three winning Super Bowl teams. And I must tell you that the feelings that I'm getting open this stadium, opening this stadium and being part of this stadium are right there with them.
Do you think opening day for the Cowboys here will rival the kind of feeling you had winning your first Super Bowl?
Well, the bottom line is to win the Super Bowl in the NFL. But there’s another bottom line, and it’s not the traditional corporate bottom line, it’s what can you do to enhance the experience for your fans, both the physical enhancement of being here, as well as the perceived, of watching it throughout the country and the world, through the different media. And that’s an exciting thing to get to be a part of. They shouldn't let someone get enough credit or be able to talk enough people into it and build a stadium, because if you’ve got the passion about football that I have, you will go crazy. And that's what I’ve done in building this stadium. And I'm excited about it. There’s no question that. As I look back, five, six years ago, I’d known we were going to be in some of the times we’re in right now, then that might, that might have influenced my decision. But, as it turns out right now, for our country to really get on, and I'm not trying to be arm waving, where we ought to go, but for this country to really get back on track, we’re going to have to sell, and our game has the most visibility of any, of anything, and all the viewing. If you want decision-makers, get them in an NFL game. If you want to pick the star of that group, and the team that has the most viewers, it’s the Dallas Cowboys. And so in its own way, this stadium can be an example of one of our stimulus programs, if you will, of how to get in, because at the end of the day it’s about selling.
Is there anything about the building that you didn't get to do?
Well, we’re still out on that. I must tell you that the idea of having the flexibility of the numbers of fans that we can put in here is exciting. That’s worked. I view this building as a stage, and if this stage allows us to be flexible not only with its capacity, but also what venue, what we get to do in here, then it will have accomplished its purpose. It’s air conditioned, yet at the same time at least half of our games will be played with all of the glass doors open, the roof open, and , we’ll have a great experience that way. One of the things that we wanted to do that I'm the most proud of is the airiness of the stadium. And that’s accomplished through a lot of glass lenses, it’s accomplished by the huge glass entrances, and certainly the glass end zone doors. And all of this creates an airiness that was really something that I wanted this building to be, rather than an enclosed venue feeling that you might have in an arena.
I wanted to move a little bit away from the building you mentioned the economic times that we’re in right now. What would you say to somebody who wants to be entrepreneurial, start a business, take their life to the next level, who might be challenged because the times are rough, what would you, what motivation speech would you give to them to not give up, to dig in…
The bar to enter, the push back to enter which the economic times we’re in are there right now. For young people leaving their education, finished their schools, the bar is, the door is hard to open right now. Behind that door are always the greatest opportunities. The harder it is, the tougher it is, the bigger the challenge to get in, the bigger the opportunity behind. The opportunities behind are endless. And what you’ve got is a lot of people that have traditionally been in our economic system. And that’s not going to work going forward. And so as young people, use the fact that that mind is as fresh as it is. And use the fact that behind that door probably the best opportunities there are. Really what it’s about is, take what you’ve got, your assets are your energy, your assets are your willingness to just not be told no if it takes some financing, use this hard time to open the door to some really great opportunities. I grew up under a premise, go in an industry that has a large profit margin, don’t go in one that’s slim. Go in one that’s large. We’ve got some industries that these hard times have created. Go in one that’s honestly managed. Well, if you're doing the managing, if you're doing the deal, then you know where your motor is going to run, and you know where your energy level is, and you know where your mentality is. Then put your money or your time into it. And so I believe these are great opportunity times for someone that’s really thinking ahead. You know, one of the things in football is to score a touchdown, it’s usually set up three and four and five plays back. To score a touchdown, you’ve got a lot of people doing a lot of things that don’t actually get the ball and cross the goal line. In other words, usually the success is far away from the moment in time or far away from what you're doing right then. I believe that’s the times we’re in. Success, while it appears impossible, success is always far away from the immediate activity. This is the time to start using the pick to mine the gold.
How much of what this building is, is Texas? Tell me a little bit about that, and could you have done this anywhere else in the country?
You know, I think to have a stadium like this, the market plays a big role. And the fact that we’re a burgeoning market, North Texas has such promise for the future, by many definitions we’re the fourth largest market in the country, and certainly one of the highest visible television markets in the country. That was important. It as important to have the initial priming the pump of the citizens of Arlington, who basically committed three hundred and twenty-five million dollars. I used to go before the Texas legislature, House and Senate, and I would say, you really are not subsidizing someone financially. Use my enthusiasm, use my intoxication with being involved in sports, prime the pump, because always the people that are involved in franchises will spend so much more, you will leverage your dollar so much. People of Arlington committed three hundred and twenty-five million in sales tax, they got a stadium that’s a billion two. Now, that’s leverage, and that's good leverage using the tax payer’s dollar.
There’s only a handful of franchises that could support that kind of a commitment, right?
This area has several things going for ultimately having a stadium like this. Football is such a great generational tradition here. Women have heard stories of their fathers in two-a-day’s. They know about their brothers in two-a-day’s. They’ve been very much a part of this game in their high school experiences alone. We’ll have high school football games in this stadium that have thirty-five, forty, forty-five thousand people in this stadium. That’s the state of Texas. This immediate area, North Texas, has such great potential, has such great population. Just as important, though, is the tradition and the visibility of the Dallas Cowboys. That goes beyond a first down. And it’s because the Cowboys came along at a time when the NFL and sports were being introduced to television, The game was being shown for what it is, a great television game, The Dallas Cowboys in our mascot we had an Afro-American cowboy named Crazy Ray, and he became a star of television. What’s wrong with that picture out of Texas? Well, that’s the Dallas Cowboys, of glitz and glitter. I think that you couldn't put a stadium together like this if you didn't have the meat on the bones and the substance of the franchise of the Dallas Cowboys. And that’s simply not only in our immediate area, but nationally the interest that’s in the team. And I know that carried a lot of weight, because we were able to do things in these hard times, over the last few years, we were able to do things with some financing that nobody in any business was able to do at the time. Last December we did an underwriting of fourteen or fifteen banks that the financial world was just looking to see, does this mean things are on their way up? Because if the Cowboys can do it, then other industries can do the same thing. That’s the type of example that shows, that it took the Cowboys to get a stadium like this built.
I want to talk about your philanthropic efforts. How important are they to you? And in, in an age when Foundations are seeing their contributions being reduced because of economic times are tough, what would you say to people about never giving up on making their contributions and helping those in need?
The Cowboys, decided many years ago, we initiated it with NBC and Dick Ebersol, and we went to him and said we’d like to kick off the National Red Kettle Campaign on our Thanksgiving Day game that we play that goes to the nation and to people that normally wouldn't be sitting there watching the game in front of the TV set. We did that, and it gave a great example of how to use the visibility of the NFL and visibility of the Cowboys, how to take, whether it’s misplaced or not, the emotion that goes with sports and being interested in sports, and then we took celebrity, again using that visibility. And with that, over the last eleven years, have incrementally increased the contributions to the Salvation Army of a billion dollars. Now that is an example of how sports, how you can take the advantages of sports, and again, the visibility of sports, who the Cowboys take that, and make the most of it. We know, and our players really know, how fortunate we are and they are. And you can make a difference simply because of that interest in competition. You know, they don’t do ticker take parades but for war heroes, astronauts, and it may be misplaced, but people that win games, and people that win competition. It’s there. I don’t have time to turn that around. That’ll take a long time to ever change that and put the real heroes on those ticker take parades, the people that create the jobs, it’ll take a long time to turn that around. What I do want to do, though, is use that interest to help a lot of people that can't run with the ball themselves.