The Dallas Cowboys and the sports media have an odd relationship.
We hear folks such as Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s First Take say time and again that the Dallas Cowboys aren’t “America’s Team,” despite the data being proven again and again and again. Not only that, but commentators and haters love to throw around the term “irrelevant,” though their grasp on the word’s definition is dubious at best. Routinely, more than one Dallas Cowboys game are among the most-watched contests during the NFL season. As if that weren’t enough, the Dallas Cowboys’ value of over $2 billion proves people that matter think the Cowboys are worth the partnership and investment.
Well, that’s the national media. How are things on the home front?
Just as dysfunctional. Even though most of the beat reporters probably swear on copies of Skip Bayless’ Hellbent as they turn in their W-2’s, they jump at the chance to take down quotes from Jerry Jones and give him the rictus grin in the locker room or wherever he appears. My favorite is when they don’t have access to him and resort to gathering around the radio, like a nuclear family in the 1950’s, and retweeting his quotes, as though they’re in the middle of conducting an interview with the Cowboys’ owner, president, and general manager.
Here we go again. Some intern at the Dallas Morning News, too ashamed to put his name to something so vapid and obtuse, intimated in a recent article that the Cowboys weren’t “America’s Team” because they didn’t lead in merchandise sales in 2013. Ostensibly, it sounds like the death knell for the brand. But let’s corral our dendrites to even a foot apart from each other and scrutinize the story.
In W. Lance Bennett’s book News: The Politics of Illusion, the distinguished political science professor notes that there are four biases the media employs: personalization, dramatization, fragmentation, and authority disorder bias. Sports media is no different, and I would submit the entire Dallas-Fort Worth gaggle as my guinea pigs. In the article at hand, the bias employed is fragmentation. The author only wants the audience only to look inside the boundaries of a particular story. Don’t look elsewhere, or one may find the context.
Let me give it to you.
In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys finished third in merchandise sales.
In 2010, the Dallas Cowboys finished second in merchandise sales.
In 2011, the Dallas Cowboys finished third in merchandise sales.
In 2012, the Dallas Cowboys finished fourth in merchandise sales.
Instead of the story being, as I have it rightly printed in my article’s title, “Cowboys finish in top five in merchandise sales for fifth straight year,” the scribe with an iPad taps out that the Cowboys’ brand is failing. It’s lazy, shoddy journalism. Heck, even if you use my title and my angle, you can still toss in “despite the team winning only one playoff game since 1997,” which is part of their salvific litany that saves their careers from the fires of blogging.
Now, let’s suppose you believe that merchandise sales are indicative of a team’s brand. And suppose you were an idiot. But I repeat myself and plagiarize Mark Twain. By the same logic, the New England Patriots must really be having brand issues. In the same data, they finished seventh, fifth, fifth, eighth, and fifth, below the Dallas Cowboys every year. Even worse, during a Super Bowl-appearing year like 2011, they finished fifth while the Cowboys finished ahead of them at third. Winning can’t save the Patriots brand.
Yet, Forbes had them ranked the second most-valuable franchise in the NFL. Their corporate sponsors include Verizon, Bank of America, and NRG Energy. Yeah. They’re all looking to go whole hog with others teams because the Patriots can’t finish better than fifth in merchandise sales.
The fact Jerry Jones can generate so much interest from fans that they would continue to propel the Cowboys into the top five each year, in spite of the fact the team hasn’t been to a conference championship game since 1995, is a testament to his marketing genius and business prowess. The NFL is as big as it is today because Jerry Jones saw the pecuniary potential of the league. He thought the old guard owners like Wellington Mara, Art Modell, and Dan Rooney were selling the league short. The reason the TV contact is so lucrative is because of Jerry Jones. The reason there’s an NFL Network is because of Jerry Jones. And there’s a reason why Jerry Jones’ name comes up annually as a Hall of Fame candidate.
Jerry Jones has been successful growing the pie of the NFL. He dang sure isn’t going to let his franchise’s brand “wane” or “fade.”
In the wake of this muckraking, we have to ask ourselves who is more foolish: the intern at the Dallas Morning News who wrote this, or a professional like Josh Sanchez at SportsIllustrated.com who should know better.
One could successfully argue the Cowboys’ place in the record books is diminishing. Arguing the Cowboys’ brand is failing is marginally better than advocating a geocentric universe.