Gil LeBreton

August 21, 2014

Cowboys atop Forbes list, but still in middle-class rut

For $3.2 billion, what exactly has Owner Jones brought Cowboys fans?

Unless you’re on Owner Jones’ inheritance list, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to celebrate about the Forbes report this week that claimed the Dallas Cowboys are worth $3.2 billion.

No team in the National Football League, Forbes said, is worth more than the Cowboys. The only sports team on the planet, in fact, valued higher than Jerry Jones’ play toy is soccer giant Real Madrid.

For $400 million per victory, in other words, Cowboys fans get to enjoy the many benefits of having one of the world’s great sports owners. (Sure, he is — ask him).

The annual Forbes lists make for compelling reading, and there’s undoubtedly a measure of science in their work. Forbes explains that it calculates such things as net revenues, stadium debt and operating income, and its sources appear solid.

But the $3.2 billion isn’t a price tag because, alas, Owner Jones isn’t selling. If somebody wants to give me, say, $1,500 for my 50-year-old baseball card collection, that doesn’t mean it’s worth $1,500.

That’s merely the price that I’m going to refuse to sell it for.

The Cowboys’ valuation has greater meaning when the $3.2 billion figure is compared with other NFL teams.

The New England Patriots were the second-highest ranked team at $2.6 billion, followed by Washington ($2.4 billion) and the New York Giants ($2.1 billion).

The average NFL team, according to Forbes, is worth $1.43 billion, an increase of 23 percent from 2013. The Cowboys, therefore, are at the head of a very wealthy class.

(Slow clap for Owner Jones).

Yet, we all know about the 8-8, playoff-less rut that Cowboys, Inc., remains mired in. And it’s there that the math threatens to never add up.

In Frisco on Friday, Owner Jones and family are scheduled to join with city officials in officially breaking ground on a new headquarters and practice home for the franchise. Congratulations are in order for the great city of Frisco, which has allocated $115 million for the new 91-acre site.

When it comes to having people build stuff for him, attach their names to stuff he owns, or give him money just to see his stuff, owner Jerry Jones has proven to have few peers. And since Jerry is, more or less, a corporation of one, there are no investors screaming in his ear about dividends (i.e., recent Super Bowl appearances) and how he spreads around his money for his assets.

Jones, remember, was part of the vanguard in 1994 that instituted the NFL’s initial salary cap. The cap is supposed to provide owners a measure of cost certainty while promoting league parity, and it has mostly worked.

But as the record shows, parity has not been kind to Jones’ Cowboys. With the cap set at $133 million this season (it was $34.6 million when first adopted in 1994), the Cowboys have been just another cap-strapped franchise when it comes to bolstering their roster.

When everybody can only spend, more or less, the same amount, the difference tends to come in things like drafting, player evaluations, wisely allocating the payroll and hiring the right coaches and front office people. In those areas, Owner Jones has proven again and again to be deficient.

Just think if there was no NFL salary cap. The Cowboys, one would think, could be like baseball’s free-spending New York Yankees.

But Jerry turned up his nose at that dream 20 years ago for the sake of “cost certainty” and parity.

The lesson here is that fans need to be careful of what their team’s owner wishes for. He’s likely to get it, year after year.

And smile, collect checks and wield groundbreaking shovels all the way to the bank.

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