If everything is bigger in Texas, it’s probably because Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones owns it. You could start with his $250 million yacht that’s longer than a football field (good luck parallel parking that in the marina). One might also mention that he paid $875 million to construct AT&T Stadium in Arlington to house the NFL’s most valuable franchise in the Dallas Cowboys.
The fourth richest person in the state of Texas and one of the richest NFL owners, Jones is a very powerful man. That’s led to beef with the NFL over the years as well as plenty of negative press, including his decision to enforce a must-stand policy during the national anthem last year. It’s not a surprise Jones is one of the most controversial team owners, right up there with Redskins’ Dan Snyder and Patriots’ Robert Kraft.
No matter your opinion on Jerry Jones the owner, it’s hard to argue Jerry Jones the businessman hasn’t made a number of smart and savvy career decisions that shaped his empire. Let’s take a look at how Jones built his fortune.
Bank and Early Failures
Born Jerral Wayne Jones to J.W. “Pat” Jones and Armenita Pearl Clark Jones, Jones was born in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. Jones began working at the supermarket his parents owned when he was a little kid.
Jones played running back at North Little Rock High School and played guard at the University of Arkansas, where he was a co-captain of the 1964 National Championship Razorbacks team. He earned his Master’s degree in business in 1970.
After graduating, Jones worked as the executive vice president at the bank his father owned — Modern Security Life Insurance Company — which Pat sold in 1971 after turning it into a multi-million-dollar business in the 1960s.
Jones, as you’ll find out, wasn’t settled with his job. He wanted more. He wanted something he could call his own. In 1965 he borrowed one million dollars from the Teamsters labor union to open a string of Shakey’s Pizza Parlors in Missouri, a project that failed.
Then in 1967, Jones first entertained the idea of owning a sports franchise. He nearly purchased the AFL’s San Diego Chargers after receiving backing from the same group that lent him the pizza money. The deal fell through when Jones backed out after heeding his father’s advice against the risky decision.
Oil and Gas Exploration
Jones’ early wealth can be attributed to the oil industry. His oil and gas company, Jones Oil and Land Lease, became successful after striking oil in his first drillings.
After buying oil leases for $15 million in 1982, Jones invested another $35 million or so into the company and eventually sold it back to the company he bought the leases from for a whopping $175 million in 1986. That would be more than enough change to purchase what became his most successful endeavor: The Dallas Cowboys.
To this day, the 76-year-old is still heavily involved in the oil and gas business. In 2018, Jones became the controlling shareholder in Comstock Resources, and his more than 80 percent slice of the company is worth $650 million.
Jones finally got his NFL team when he bought the Cowboys from H.R. “Bum” Bright for a record $140 million in 1989 when the franchise was losing $1 million a month.
Jones didn’t care. He saw potential in a team that appeared in the Super Bowl for the first time in 1971 against the Baltimore Colts, then two more later that decade. And he changed everything about the way America’s Team operated.
He immediately fired head coach Tom Landry, who was the only coach the Cowboys had ever had. He brought in his guy, Jimmy Johnson, who played football alongside Jones at Arkansas and endured success coaching the Miami Hurricanes. General manager Tex Schramm resigned months later and Jones assumed his duties. Jones went on to fire multiple people that had been with the organization for years.
Jones’ culture changes included requiring Dallas cheerleaders to wear spandex and halter tops — a move that was met with criticism — and selling beer to Cowboys fans in Texas Stadium, which wasn’t allowed until he persuaded local politicians two years after he bought the team.
The Cowboys became a dynasty on the field in the 1990s, winning three Super Bowls and owning the NFC during the decade. Johnson orchestrating the Herschel Walker trade — considered the worst trade in NFL history — was a big reason for that. Dallas gained a number of draft picks from the Minnesota Vikings that became pillars of the team. Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith was one of them. Jones and Johnson had a falling out, though, and he was replaced in 1995 by Barry Switzer.
In 1995, Jones signed deals with Nike, Pepsi, American Express and AT&T worth $60 million. The NFL, which was partnered with competitors like Coca-Cola and Visa, sued him. He countersued and both parties dropped it a year later. AT&T bought naming rights to the stadium in 2013 for at least $17 million per year.
Jones also helped turn the NFL into the booming money-maker it is now and changed the landscape of American football. In 1993, he helped secure a massive TV deal with Fox at a time when owners suggested giving back revenue to extend their current TV contracts. Fox paid more than $100 million per season than CBS offered and the league’s TV contract blossomed to more than $1 billion. Today, the league’s TV deals are worth tens of billions of dollars.
According to Forbes, the Cowboys are worth a stunning $5 billion today. That makes them the NFL’s most valuable football team by more than $1 billion. Donald Trump, who passed on buying the Cowboys for $50 million in 1984, had an all-time quote in the New York Times:
“I feel sorry for the poor guy who is going to buy the Dallas Cowboys. It’s a no-win situation for him, because if he wins, well, so what, they’ve won through the years. And if he loses, which seems likely because they are having troubles, he’ll be known to the world as a loser.”
Jerry Jones is a lot of things, but “poor guy” isn’t one of them.
Other Ventures and Assets
When you have as much money as Jones, you spread your money around and invest. Because he has so many financial ventures outside of the Cowboys, I’ll list them bullet-point style.
- Jones and the Cowboys own a percentage of more than 50 Papa John’s Pizza stores throughout North Texas.
- The Cowboys launched an arena league team, the Dallas Desperados, in 2002 and were an instant sales hit.
- Jones partnered with the New York Yankees and Goldman Sachs to create Legends hospitality services for teams, which in 2017 was valued at $700 million.
- In 2009, Jones founded 289c Apparel to service his team. The company works with the Texas Longhorns and USC Trojans as well.
- Jones is an avid art collector. He bought Norman Rockwell’s “Coin Toss” in 1989 for $1.1 million, which has reportedly appreciated to more than $18 million, and owns paintings by Picasso, Renoir and Matisse.
- In addition to his $250 million yacht, Jones also owns a $50 million private jet.
Love him or hate him, you have to admit Jones has done pretty well for himself since his days working at his family’s supermarket. He made his money in the oil industry and made the best investment of his career in buying the Dallas Cowboys, which he turned into a winner both on and off the field.
Jones, who’s married to Eugenia “Gene” Jones and had three children — Stephen, Charlotte and Jerry Jr. — may never fully seize control of his darling sports team, even if they’ve endured years of playoff futility since Tony Romo’s infamous fumbled snap against the Seahawks in 2006.
That being said, signs of him slowly handing over the reigns to Stephen — who Sports Illustrated says is “Jerry’s right-hand man” — have surfaced. For now, though, it’s Jerry’s World and we’re all just living in it.