A Conversation with Jerry Jones Jr.
The Dallas Cowboys have the most loyal fans in the NFL. We didn’t just make that up—an Emory University poll from last July proved it. In the 30-plus years since Jerry Jones bought the legendary franchise, he and his family have grown it into the most valuable sports property in the world.
Recently, we had the great privilege of chatting with Jerry Jones Jr., who serves as the Cowboys’ executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer. He told us how his operation capitalizes on Cowboys fans’ legendary enthusiasm, especially through Formation, a new collaborative workspace in the team’s world headquarters. Formation opened its doors this past summer, offering open workspaces, dedicated desks, and private offices to individuals and entrepreneurs. Get a seat at Formation and you’ll not only hitch your business to the excitement of the Dallas Cowboys—you might find yourself in the lunch line next to an NFL legend.
Texas CEO Magazine: The Dallas Cowboys’ World Headquarters at The Star has been open for a couple of years now. What was the process of building the Cowboys’ new headquarters like?
Jones: When we built our stadium [AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, completed in 2009], we were all asked what our biggest challenge was. In our minds, that challenge was meeting the expectations of our fans for what the home of the Dallas Cowboys should be. That was the approach that we took to make AT&T Stadium and create an experience for our fans.
Five years ago, when we got the opportunity with the city of Frisco to build The Star as the future headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys—business operations, training and practice facility, and a lot more—we wanted to create yet another way our fans could experience the Dallas Cowboys in ways they hadn’t before. We sat there really whiteboarding different ideas of what that might mean and how we could take advantage of the Dallas Cowboys brand.
At the time, we had more than 25 years of experience to draw from, things we had done with our sponsors, their customers, and our fans. It’s from those conversations that The Star evolved and became what it is today. The things we have done there are things we believe in 100 percent, things like the Omni Hotel, Cowboys Fit [the health and fitness center at The Star], Cowboys Club, and work we’ve done with Baylor Scott & White on health protection and injury prevention. Those ideas were all whiteboarded long before they came to fruition, using the concept of leveraging the Cowboys brand.
Our approach, starting with Jerry Sr., has always been to leverage the passion and excitement of the Dallas Cowboys. We’ve found we can use that tradition, history and brand affinity to help sponsors like Pepsi, Ford, or the Miller Brewing Company. By leveraging the association with the Dallas Cowboys, you really create an uneven playing field, and that’s what we’ve done here with Formation, [ the new collaborative workspace] Our family has always been passionate about entrepreneurship and business and now, with Formation, we have the chance to help foster success with everyone from entrepreneurs to CEOs of up-and-coming businesses.
Texas CEO Magazine: My understanding is that Formation is already highly utilized, even though it’s only been open since last August. How did that business come about?
Jones: It really grew out of our focus on the culture and environment at The Star. As we were collecting ideas for what we wanted our headquarters at The Star to be, we weren’t looking at sports training facilities like we did when we were building the stadium. We looked for ideas all over the place. We studied corporations and their headquarters, places like Apple and Google. We went and saw what some of our sponsors, like Ford Motor Company, were doing. In looking at those places, we wanted to see how they treated corporate environment and culture.
In building The Star, we focused on the atmosphere, the look and feel, of everything from the players’ cafeteria to business operations. We had to think about not only what the experience for our fans was like, but how we could ensure that our employees and our football team had a great experience as well. What setting could we give them that would make them thrive?
That really bled to the idea of a coworking space which then led into the development of Formation. The concept was picking up steam and a lot of people were jumping into that industry, but we really didn’t look at it as coworking as much as we looked at it as an entrepreneurial membership club. What does that mean? It means you have an opportunity to leverage the Cowboys the very way that our family does. Formation really lets people tap into the history, the passion and the excitement of the Cowboys brand as well as the dynamic of a family-run operation. With Formation, we had a chance to let people access those amenities and take part in that very excitement of being a part of the Cowboys’ family. That’s what Formation represents.
Texas CEO Magazine: What is the appeal for individuals or companies that take advantage of Formation?
Jones: Leveraging the Cowboys brand makes a big difference. It lets the guard down in a business dynamic. We’ve done that very thing for the last 30 years by giving our business partners access to the brand. To me, that’s what we’re emphasizing with Formation. It’s why Formation is more of an entrepreneurial club than a typical coworking space. Its connection to the Dallas Cowboys, The Star, and our family has allowed it to stand out from similar spaces and provide a unique edge in business.
Our headquarters at The Star is 400,000 square feet. The Dallas Cowboys are only in 70,000 of that square feet. What’s going on in the other 330,000? Those are companies like FM Global, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch. And we just announced Keurig Dr Pepper’s new 350,000-square-foot Texas headquarters adjacent to our building, on another side of the practice field. When those companies invite a client to come to have a discussion, they walk through the main entryway of the Dallas Cowboys headquarters. There are five Super Bowl trophies sitting there, five Super Bowl rings, a tribute to the Cowboys Ring of Honor. They feel like they’re visiting the Cowboys even though they’re going over to have a meeting at Merrill Lynch. Those companies have seen what a brand association with the Dallas Cowboys does for their business.
Now, with Formation, smaller operations can get in on that and really benefit in the networking and relationship building space—whether you’re an entrepreneur just starting out on your own or a CEO for a newly launched corporation. In fact, our open workspaces are designed for maximum flexibility and connectivity with others. We also provide many ongoing opportunities for relationship-building like weekly happy hours, monthly network huddles, a monthly series called “The Cowboys Way” in which our front office executives share professional insights, and periodic keynote addresses for members.
If I were in a startup, that’s exactly where I would want to office to take advantage of that dynamic. That’s the opportunity Formation gives. If I were starting up a company and my name wasn’t Jerry Jones Jr., that’s where I’d be officing. It’d be the best chance to get that uneven playing field that I’ve been fortunate enough to have throughout my business career.
Texas CEO Magazine: Another topic that’s come up a lot lately is esports. I know you’ve done some partnering in that arena. Where do you see that going?
Jones: It’s a really interesting industry, especially with Complexity Gaming now headquartered here on our campus at The Star in Frisco. I’d say that right now it’s a really broad-strokes term. When someone says “esports,” they’re often being too general. Which part of esports are you talking about? What video game is it? But there are still a lot of uncharted waters out there. We’ve had discussions with high schools, with UILs, with school districts about this becoming a high school sport and a college sport that’s no different from rowing or lacrosse. We’re certainly staying educated on it, we see the opportunity, and we’re putting a chip on the table if you will, seeing what will transpire.
The younger generations are following it closely. When we first started discussing esports, my boy was 11 at the time and he definitely knew more about it than me and my brother did—how you could watch and how influencers worked related to esports. It was a good education for us.
Texas CEO Magazine:Your brand is obviously associated with the Dallas metro area. What do you see happening there that has you excited about business going forward?
Jones: We all know the great environment that the state of Texas creates for corporations, not just in sport but in any industry. You see big corporations moving to Austin, you see them moving into Dallas, you see them moving to North Dallas especially. Back in 2013, we had to make the decision to make a huge financial commitment here. As we sit today, we have over $1.5 billion invested into The Star development, and that’s with only two-thirds of it being developed. We still have 30-plus acres of the 90 acres to go.
But you get comfort in seeing the growth of North Texas and Texas overall. There’s no better place to do business right now. We felt that Frisco really was the heartbeat of all that when we made the commitment to bring The Star here, and now we’re doing the same with Formation. We’ve created an uneven playing field with the Dallas Cowboys name and fostered an energy there that has allowed businesses to thrive. We’ve also found that several of our members see Formation as the perfect way to extend their business into the growing north corridor of Dallas.
Texas CEO Magazine: With growth often come challenges. Are there any major challenges in the DFW area or Texas in general you think we should be leery of as we continue to experience this significant growth?
Jones: Well, I can tell you one thing you see when there’s growth everywhere, especially as we look at North Texas and the DFW area: In the development phase, construction costs usually go a little higher than you had budgeted for, because there’s that kind of demand for contractors. When you have growth throughout, that becomes a real issue. But it’s also a good problem to have, because it creates a stimulus in that area for thriving economics.
These high costs for new construction are yet another reason why coworking is often a good option for businesses. Formation, for example, offers an elevated level of hospitality and aesthetic that is truly unmatched in this market. We’ve also seen first-hand how our workspaces are well-liked by any level of professional—from an entrepreneur to a seasoned CEO. And, better yet, Frisco is the ideal place to be as one of the fastest growing suburbs in Texas and in the US overall. When you combine this with The Star campus and Dallas Cowboys organization, there’s truly no better place to do business.
Texas CEO Magazine: The workforce is probably the number-one concern we hear from CEOs. How are we going to keep filling the pipeline with workers? They’re hard to come by.
Jones: At Formation, one of the lures of the workplace is how closely it is tied to the Dallas Cowboys organization. To think that you’re going to lunch and right next to you in line is Dak Prescott or Jaylon Smith? That is priceless.
It’s also all about the amenities. Formation is located next to more than 30 restaurants and just steps from fitness, entertainment and business innovations. Members also have special access to presales for select AT&T Stadium and Ford Center events, and unique members-only events created by Dallas Cowboys staff with opportunities to hear from in-house experts. There are a many other particularly unique membership perks, like professional headshots from a team photographer, an on-site barista, notary services, lunch delivery from the team chef and more.
And secondly, as big as we have grown, between my brother, my sister, myself, and of course Jerry Sr., we’re still a family-run, hands-on operation. In today’s workplace, the more you look at your colleagues and employees as family members, not just as tools to a bottom line, the better culture you’ll have. Because you ask—how would you manage them if they were your own children, your own siblings, your own parents? If you take that approach of trying to invest in them and take satisfaction in their growth and success—even if it ultimately means they leave for a bigger opportunity somewhere else—you ought to take pride in that. That’s our approach, and so far it’s working well.