Troy Aikman starts a light beer company as Fox Sports, Amazon compete for him

Key Points
  • Troy Aikman's light beer company EIGHT will be sold in Texas as the former NFL star grows the business.
  • The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback spoke to CNBC about EIGHT and discussed speculation surrounding his future at Fox Sports.
  • "I know there' a lot of conversations that are taking place, but in all honesty, I don't know what that might look like," Aikman said.
NFL star, Troy Aikman, launches his light beer brand called 'Eight'
NFL star, Troy Aikman, launches his light beer brand called 'Eight'

Troy Aikman won three Super Bowls. He made an initial investment in Wingstop, owned car dealerships and transitioned to calling primetime National Football League games for Fox Sports.

You could say Aikman has done a lot on the field and in the business world. Now the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback will try his hand in the beer industry.

On Tuesday, Aikman, 55, launched EIGHT, a light beer company he co-founded with four other individuals. EIGHT will only be sold in Texas and distributed at notable retail locations, including HEB, a prominent supermarket chain in South Texas.

Aikman spoke to CNBC this week about EIGHT's future.

"If we go beyond the borders of Texas," said Aikman, "then we'll all be excited because that means that there's a need and demand outside the state."

Aikman labels EIGHT "better-four-you-beer" as the beverage says it's low in calories and uses organic ingredients. He also spoke about his uncertain future at Fox Sports, calling Sunday afternoon games, as the network is in a bidding war with Amazon to retain Aikman.

"I know there are a lot of conversations that are taking place, but in all honesty, I don't know what that might look like," Aikman said when asked about his future calling NFL games.

From Roger Staubach to Dak Prescott 

Before working in media, Aikman led the Cowboys to three Super Bowls in the 1990s, including the franchise's last championship in 1996.

But Aikman pointed to a time earlier in his career learning from another Cowboys star quarterback in Roger Staubach. 

He wanted to mimic Staubach's success in real estate investing. Staubach sold his real estate empire – The Staubach Company – in 2008 for $613 million.

Troy Aikman #8 of the Dallas Cowboys throws a pass against the Washington Redskins during an NFL football game October 2, 1994 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Focus On Sport | Getty Images

"I thought at the time that was going to be kind of my business venture that took me into some areas away from football," said Aikman, who eventually found success in the auto industry.   

Aikman opened a line of car dealerships that sold brands including Chevrolet, Jeep and Chrysler. He sold the dealership in 2000, according to ESPN.

And Aikman was also an early investor in Wingstop before selling his shares when the restaurant franchise went public in July 2015.

Said Aikman: "What I've learned in my business ventures is that there have been some really great concepts of great brands that you feel good about, but ultimately it's the people who execute it. I really learned over the years to invest more in the people than anything else."

Aikman joined beer industry experts Doug Campbell, a former president of Brewery Ommegang, former Anheuser-Busch official Phil Leinhart and enlisted Oregon State University's beer program to help develop EIGHT over the last two years.

"It took a lot of effort and a lot of time," said Aikman. "We had some real experts who were involved. We went through a lot of samples and a lot of tastings to get it to where it is."

Aikman said EIGHT would appear on draft in Texas restaurants starting Feb. 1. The company will sell packs of the beverage in stores, including HEB. The local distribution at HEB, which brings in $32.8 in revenue according to Forbes, will help grow EIGHT's brand awareness and availability among beer consumers in Texas. 

"I was amazed at how enthusiastic they were about our concept and what we wanted to do with it," Aikman said. "It only stood to reason that if we're launching in Texas, and initially only going to be in Texas, that HEB would be a big part of that."

Aikman didn't disclose the price range of EIGHT but said "it'll be price lined with our competitors."

Asked about a future pouring rights opportunity with his former team, which would allow EIGHT to be sold at Cowboys games, Aikman responded: "It seems natural that we would be at the AT&T Stadium, but I know there are other brands that have paid a lot of money. So, I don't know where that might lead. But [Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott] has gotten his shipments."

Prescott is co-owner of Walk-On's restaurants in Dallas-Fort Worth and Waco, so the current Cowboys star could be influential in EIGHT's availability at the locations.

"We'll see whether or not he likes it and wants to be a part of it," Aikman said.

Broadcast personality Troy Aikman, left, talks with sports reporter Ed Werder, right, before a NFL football game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019.
Michael Ainsworth | AP

What's Aikman's future at Fox Sports?

But while Aikman waits for his light beer business to grow, there's the upcoming business to address with his NFL media career.

Last November, Front Office Sports reported Amazon would target Aikman for its NFL Thursday Night Package, which starts exclusively in the 2022 season.

Aikman gained experience calling the contest with Fox Sports in addition to Sunday afternoon NFL games on the network last season. The NFL's package will air on Amazon's Prime Video nationally but still appear on TV networks in local markets.

Asked to address the speculation surrounding his future, Aikman said: "I've thoroughly enjoyed my time with Fox. I've been there 21 years – it's hard to believe – and I've been working with Joe Buck for 20 years. I've had the same producer for all 21 years I've been broadcasting. I love the people I work with, and I love the people I work for, so my hope is I get to continue to stay on with Fox.

"But I honestly," Aikman added, "I don't know how that's going to shake out when that's all said and done."

It could come down to how much Fox values Aikman.

Aikman is making roughly $7.5 million per year at Fox Sports, according to USA Today. Asked if money will play a big part in deciding his next move, Aikman responded: "I think that's always a part of it, but it's much bigger than that."

Newly inducted members of the NFL Hall of Fame stand after a news conference in Detroit, Michigan February 4, 2006. (L to R) Former quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys Troy Aikman, former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden, Sara White, the wife of former Green Bay Packer Reggie White, former quarterback of the Houston Oilers Warren Moon and Rayfield Wright of the Dallas Cowboys.
Mike Cassese | Reuters

Aikman's Madden memory 

But though Aikman was unsure about the future of his NFL broadcasting business, perhaps him reminiscing about the late John Madden will provide some hints to his future. 

Aikman said he shared a close relationship with Madden, the former NFL coach and iconic broadcaster who died on Dec. 28 at age 85. He recalled the day Madden called him about a career move following the 2001 season – Aikman's first year calling games on Fox.

"He said, 'Hey, I just want to let you know I'm going to Monday Night Football,'" Aikman remembered. "I couldn't believe it. And then the very next year, all of a sudden, I was working in the number one booth.

"I think one of the reasons why he left was at that time, I think he was interested in working a primetime game on Monday Night Football," added Aikman. "That was unique, and the only time there was a prime time game."

In the later years, though, after Madden retired from broadcasting in 2009, Aikman said, "in conversations that I've had with him, he always felt that the best time for NFL football viewing was Sunday afternoon at 4:20 Eastern Time. I think there's a lot of truth to that – it feels good.

"Sunday afternoons, I think that's when people are used to really gearing in and watching the big game," Aikman added.

When discussing his favorite Madden moment, Aikman flashed back to 2006, when the two were inducted together in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

At the event's luncheon, Hall of Fame honorees were asked to wear the same colored golf shirt, and unsure of which color to wear, Aikman sent Madden his first text message ever. But Madden's response was delayed for a good 15 minutes.

"All of a sudden, my phone lights up, and he texted me back and told me [the shirt color]," Aikman said. "I saw him 30 minutes later, he told me, 'I didn't know what the hell that was. My phone lit up, and I got these words on there. What do you call that?' I said that's texting.

 "I'm dying laughing as he's telling me this story," added Aikman: "That was his greatness – he can take something that was pretty mundane for most people and turn into a really entertaining moment."

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott discusses investment in Walk-On's restaurants
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott discusses Walk-On's restaurant investment

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.