At Los Angeles International Airport last week, a traveler wearing a Dallas Cowboys shirt stopped at a newsstand to grab a snack. The cashier immediately struck up a conversation about “his ’Boys,” and their pending playoff game against the Detroit Lions.
Despite both growing up in Southern California, the Cowboys are their team, and the first playoff appearance since 2009 has their pride sky high.
Cowboys fans all over the world are wiping the sleep out of their eyes and making their fandom heard after the postseason drought. The Cowboys meet the Green Bay Packers at noon Sunday in the NFC divisional playoffs.
The return to prominence is not only a boon for fans, but it’s no doubt a godsend for television executives. Cowboys games, even during the lean years, have always been highly rated. Their 24-20 win over the Detroit Lions was the second-most watched NFC wild-card game ever with a 23.6 rating (42.3 million viewers).
“I can’t speak for the NFL, but I think if you call the people at Fox and ask them if they’re pleased to have Romo and [Aaron] Rodgers and Dallas and Green Bay in the divisional round, I’m guessing they would tell you they are somewhat pleased,” said Brad Sham, longtime radio voice of the Cowboys.
“This is a team that everybody loves to love or loves to hate. And they generate more conversation consistently over time than any other franchise. That doesn’t mean they are the best. It doesn’t mean they are the most popular right now, but they’re the ones that people talk about.”
The Cowboys played in three of the six top-rated games during the regular season, including the season’s top-rated game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving Day.
But it’s not only television ratings that tick up when the Cowboys are involved, it’s also the merchandise sales. And when they are winning, the T-shirts, jerseys and other team gear starts flying off the shelves.
“Sales have definitely improved from last year,” said Academy Sports and Outdoors’ Arlington store director Chris Kuykendall. “Obviously, with them having a winning season sales have definitely improved. We’ve definitely seen increased traffic in the store.”
And if the Cowboys keep winning, expect the fandom to explode like hasn’t been seen since the mid-1990s.
“Very few teams move the needle like the Dallas Cowboys, and having them back in the playoffs where they’re in a do-or-die situation each and every week is tremendous. There’s no question about it,” NFL Network host Rich Eisen said.
Eisen thinks the matchup of iconic franchises Green Bay and Dallas in Sunday’s playoff game could set a ratings record, despite the early start.
ESPN analyst and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski has seen the Cowboys’ mystique from multiple vantage points. There’s no doubt in his mind that a strong Cowboys franchise benefits the NFL.
“There’s no question, with the following the Cowboys have, it’s great for the National Football League,” said Jaworski, a 10-year starter for the Eagles against the Cowboys in the NFC East. “The Cowboys have always been an iconic team. Even when they’re not winning people followed the Cowboys.
“I still have [former coach] Dick Vermeil’s speeches resonating in my ear talking about the Dallas Cowboys, how good they are, how great of a coach Tom Landry is, and if we ever wanted to achieve the goals that we set out to achieve we had to beat the Dallas Cowboys. So they were always a target for us.”
The Cowboys, of course, are a target for both love and hate from fans. Even when they were missing the playoffs 10 out of the previous 14 seasons, they engendered typically strong reactions. The league wasn’t exactly hurting when the Cowboys were missing the playoffs, but their return ratchets up interest.
“Does major league baseball function OK when the Yankees don’t win? Yeah, it functions just fine,” Sham said. “Does it seem a little better when the Yankees are good and controversial? It seems a little better.”
And so it goes with the Cowboys.
America’s Team, which had its credentials questioned before the season with reports of declining jersey sales, seems poised to jump back to the top spot with a Super Bowl run.
In today’s social media climate, Twitter is as good a gauge as any for a team’s appeal. And no team spikes Twitter like the Cowboys.
Each week during the NFL season Twitter released its most tweeted-about moments during the weekend’s games, and nearly every week it was when the Cowboys were taking the victory formation or closed out a game, Eisen said.
“That’s the metric you need, because nobody can accuse that of being a media-driven phenomenon,” he said. “Nobody in the national media is hovering above you when you’re tweeting something; nobody from the national media is forcing you to push the send button on your tweet.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760
Whenver they play and whomever they play, the Dallas Cowboys draw a lot of eyes, particularly on TV. According to the NFL, here are the most watched programs in the fall:
Thanksgiving Day (Eagles-Cowboys)
Sunday National (mostly Patriots-Packers)
Sunday National (mostly Cowboys-Seahawks)
Thanksgiving Day (Bears-Lions)
Sunday National (mostly Broncos-Patriots)
Sunday National (mostly 49ers-Cowboys)
Sunday National (mostly Broncos-Seahawks)
Thursday Night Kickoff Game (Packers-Seahawks)
Sunday National (mostly Giants-Cowboys)
Sunday National (mostly Eagles-Packers)