It shouldn’t come as a surprise to NFL fans which team boasts the most dedicated fanbase: The Dallas Cowboys.
This reality is much to the chagrin of many lovers of the sport (outside of Dallas, of course). Cowboy nation is controversial, led loudly and proudly by the much-maligned owner, Jerry Jones.
Furthermore, the Cowboys haven’t known much success for the past couple of decades. Their most recent Super Bowl victory dates back to the 1990s when Emmitt Smith and Deon Sanders were household names.
Yet somehow, the football world seems to revolve around the polarizing team. This is due to a variety of factors being discussed below.
How Was This Conclusion Reached?
Over the past few years, there’s been a study performed by Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, ranking the NFL’s most popular teams.
The head of the study, Mike Lewis, explains that the results are based on marketing and economic theory. Via an array of statistical tools, the professor and his cohorts were able to decipher which team had the most ardent following.
Via factors discussed in the next section, Lewis established a statistical model of fan interest. This method assessed matters such as how much a team’s fans following their team based on winning and losing. It also weighs market size.
Breaking Down the Metrics
The final rankings came down to grades in three categories:
- Fan Equity: It measures merchandise, box office revenue, and game tickets, assessing the money fans are willing to spend on the team.
- Social Media Equity: This looks at whether fans follow the team on social media despite their geography. Also, it examines if fans are engaging with the relevant social media channels outside of game day.
- Road Equity: Do teams draw well when they’re visiting other stadiums?
Examining the Results
The Dallas Cowboys were ranked in the top three for all categories (first place in fan equity, second in social media equity, and third in road equity).
Professor Lewis describes the Cowboys as having the “Fan Equity Factor,” discerning its followers as the best in the league. They are trailed closely by the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Why are the Cowboys so popular, though? What accounts for this unwavering fanbase, even in the face of recent disappointments?
A Lasting Legacy of Excellence
Historically, the Cowboys have been known as “America’s Team,” which to other fanbases would likely be grating.
But how does one team – out of so many other organizations – earn such a distinction?
Of course, longevity must have something to do with it. The Cowboys have been around since 1960, initially sharing their home stadium with the Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs). Still, the Green Bay Packers are the oldest team in the league. So duration can’t be the main factor of igniting such a dedicated fanbase.
On top of longevity, there is a legacy. Dallas has won five Super Bowls under two separate dynasties.
The Tom Landry era Dallas Cowboys, where 2/5ths of those titles were won, laid the groundwork for the organization’s mass appeal. He established a standard of excellence throughout 20 straight winning seasons with the team.
From there, the remaining 60 percent of Dallas’s championships came in the 1990s, spearheaded by all-stars such as Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Deion Sanders, and Michael Irvin.
Even then, winning isn’t everything. Otherwise, the New England Patriots would have the #1 fanbase in the NFL.
How Did the Cowboys Become “America’s Team?”
The brand strength of the Dallas Cowboys can be attributed to a perfect storm of converging factors—some of which were discussed in the previous section.
One can then look at the fact that Texas, in general, is such a hotbed of football culture. Beyond that, there’s the benefit of marketing. An article from the Bleacher Report points out that the title of “America’s Team” stems from NFL films. The crew recorded highlights of every game for weekly and year-end video compilations.
In 1977, the team had just won the Super Bowl after going 12-2 and was loaded with all-pro players. The following season, the camera crews at NFL Films took note that there were just as many Dallas fans during Cowboy road games.
For the 1978 highlight video, the narrator – Bob Ryan – proceeded to announce the Cowboys as America’s team.
At the time, Tex Schramm was Dallas’s general manager. He had a background in television, serving as a right-hand-man to the head of sports at CBS. The savvy GM knew, upon hearing the moniker, that he had to take the ball and run with it (pardon the pun), and the nickname has never ceased.
The Brand Power of the Cowboys is Undeniable
The Cowboys organization might be polarizing to many across the US. However, there’s no denying how recognizable the franchise truly is. Even in the face of a twenty-plus-year Super Bowl drought, people worldwide see Dallas as being synonymous with the National Football League.