In 2010, the Denver Broncos’ coaches were fined $50,000 for filming a walk-through San Francisco 49ers practice before the two teams were scheduled to play in London. Capturing another team’s behind-the-scenes prep is generally difficult—camps don’t share practice facilities for games in the U.S., and outside of a select number of events during training camp, NFL teams don’t open their practices to the public. But the competitive advantages to seeing what plays are getting run regularly during practice—as well as what formations they’re using, what personnel groupings are being used in those formations, who’s running with a slight limp, etc.—are clear.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys—as part of an ingenious scheme from Jerry Jones to monetize yet another part of the brand he owns—are looking to sell access to practices in the form of memberships. The team’s new practice facility, the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, is expected to open in August, and everything about it—from its placement in Frisco (where it’s a partnership between the city and the team) to the fact that Jones sold the naming rights to Ford (a brand with deep ties to the competing Detroit Lions, but never mind all of that)—is about finding new ways to make money from the Cowboys brand. But Jones’ latest plan is possibly the weirdest yet.
The newly created Cowboys Club, which asks a one-time fee of $4,500 plus $350 a month for a family membership, guarantees entry to the Cowboys Fit Club (where players and cheerleaders work out) and unprecedented access to the team’s practices.
“Nothing like this has ever been done in sports,” Charlotte Jones Anderson, the team’s executive vice president, said of the concept that originated with her brother, Jerry Jones Jr.
The club has views from a terrace overlooking the team’s outdoor fields so members can watch practices. The opposite side offers views at the 50-yard line of the indoor stadium, where the team shares the field with Frisco schools and the city of Frisco for football games, band competitions and more.
Membership includes access to the Cowboys Fit club, where the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders will train.
Jones’ decision to seek every possible revenue stream for the Cowboys has had unintended consequences ranging from fan alienation to a limiting of home-field advantage. Although the underpaid Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders will surely relish the chance to work out next to people who pay thousands of dollars a year for the privilege of being close to them, the bigger issue here is the terrace overlooking the practice field. It’s very unclear at the moment what’s to stop the New York Giants or the Philadelphia Eagles organization from purchasing a membership at the Cowboys Club and sending someone out to scout practices before the two games a year in which the teams will face each other. Surreptitiously videotaping the opposing team’s practices may be against the rules, but ponying up a few thousand dollars a year to be able to attend them is just smart strategy.
Sure, certain details of practices tend to come out from media reports—who’s wearing a walking boot, or who’s taking more snaps with the first team—but things like formations, or play selections, or what signals are being used to call those plays do not. Even if precautions are taken to keep other teams from sending scouts to check out what the Cowboys are planning, overeager fans who tweet what they see could blow a plan that other teams would be working on in secret.
The organization says that it intends to limit memberships in the Cowboys Club to 700 to 800 (a number that, if Jones’ track record for maximizing profits is any indication, could grow). Even at that capacity, though, we’re talking a few million bucks in one-time fees, as well as another few million in monthly dues—and if every member who drops by has a drink or a snack, there’s even more potential payout for the organization. With that on the line, it makes some sense that Jones might be willing to sell things that no other team has ever considered making available to the public—it may cost his team games, but never let it be said that Jerry Jones isn’t an innovator.