For sports clubs, the number of cups, rings and trophies seems to have a direct correlation to a team’s net worth. Since 1901, the New York Yankees have won 27 national championships and hold the record for the best win/loss ratio in MLB history. It should come as no surprise that the team with more rings than fingers has been the most valuable baseball franchise for the past 20 years.
The connection between championships and franchise evaluation appears to be consistent across pro sports leagues. The Montreal Canadiens, the NHL team with the highest valuation, have twice as many Stanley Cup victories than the next-best team. Similarly, Manchester United is the most winning team in England’s Premier League and its highest-valued sports franchise.
But what if the highest-valued sports franchise of all is the exception to the rule?
It’s been more than 20 years since the Dallas Cowboys’ last Super Bowl appearance, and yet their whopping $4.8 billion valuation makes the Cowboys the most valuable sports franchise in the world. And the Pittsburgh Steelers hold the NFL title for the most Super Bowl victories but don’t even break the top 10 in franchise value. Clearly, winning isn’t everything. There must be another variable driving value for the franchise.
If we put the Dallas Cowboys under the microscope, winning or losing, we see that the franchise has a history of putting the fans first. It started with their founder and continues to this day. After the 1960s NFL expansion, the Cowboys’ owner, Tex Schramm, focused on the off-field football experience to build his team’s fan base. Schramm turned the Cowboys into a global brand that is as much about the fan experience as it is about the game of football.
In 1966, Schramm signed the TV contract that forever associated the Dallas Cowboys with the nostalgia of Thanksgiving Day pigskin. Watching the Cowboys surrounded by friends and family is as much a tradition as carving the turkey. Win or lose, the Cowboys are associated with warm food and family togetherness—not to mention a perennial spot on TV.
However, becoming “America’s Team” is not just about tradition. The Cowboys have a history of winning that makes it harder to simply lean on achievements of the past during losing seasons. Memories of championship seasons, regular playoff appearances and retired all-stars are painful reminders of the team’s present championship drought. As fans wait for a comeback, the Dallas Cowboys gather inspiration from marketing brilliance of the past to quite literally build their future.
AT&T Stadium, which is also called “The Star in Frisco” and “Jerry World,” has become the Cowboys’ link to the heart of Texas. The $1.5 billion investment serves as a shrine to the fans as much as the players. Certain levels display student artwork, with the typical armchair seating exchanged for benches to accommodate high school bands.
The Dallas Cowboys have a history of repaying the loyalty of fans with grand gestures. By extending the use of the field to nearby high school teams, the Cowboys have made sharing the field with the fans a reality. Texas youth now have the opportunity to play on the same field as their heroes.
On top of the team’s connection to the community, the Cowboys’ stadium museum and guided stadium tours are open to visitors year-round. The Cowboys’ mobile Hall-of-Fame is a museum on wheels, a semi-trailer that follows the team across the country with replica Super Bowl trophies and retired player jerseys, sharing Cowboy heritage and culture with football fans everywhere.
When owner Jerry Jones purchased the team in 1989, he inherited Schramm’s legacy of showmanship. He has since enhanced the fan experience by connecting tried and true marketing ideas to contemporary pop culture. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, a team icon since the 1960s, are as popular as ever. In fact, the squad has slipped into the reality TV scene with CMT’s Dallas Cowboy’s Cheerleaders: Making the Team, giving an old tradition a 21st century platform and providing a new revenue source for the franchise. Regardless of how the team is playing, the cheerleaders are entertaining millions of viewers during the Cowboys’ off-season.
There is unlimited potential for what sports teams can do with their history, and how it can inspire market activities today. The more obvious points of opportunity are classic stadiums and arenas, old timers’ appearances, and, most importantly, the preservation and constant use of images of great players and plays. Using the unique heritage of a sports franchise is an effective way to bolster revenue and team pride when a team struggles to find success in the win column. The Dallas Cowboys will always have the chance to restore their championship heritage, but until that day, the franchise will continue to lean on its rich heritage and fan experience to succeed.