In their lengthy quest to be known as America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys have featured marketable stars, attempted to dominate their football-mad state and sought every advantageous national television opportunity, including mimicking the Detroit Lions and laying claim to an annual spot on Thanksgiving Day.
And then there is Los Angeles.
Since 1963 the Cowboys have held 40 preseason training camps in Southern California – 27 of them from 1963-1989 in Thousand Oaks and 13 since 2001, including the past seven, in Oxnard. Sprinkled in have been Lone Star state forays to Austin, San Antonio and Wichita Falls.
Part of the appeal was escaping the August heat of Texas (prior to settling on L.A., camps were held in Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). Part of it though was extending their brand and cultivating a fan base in the second biggest city in America, one that also has palm trees and movie stars that mesh with the ethos of the franchise, particularly under owner Jerry Jones.
The throngs of fans, clad in Cowboys gear, that descend on the River Ridge Playing Fields, which is literally just some grass next to the Oxnard Residence Inn, prove it has worked. The franchise was always popular, but when the NFL abandoned L.A. as a market from 1995-2015, this was about the only pro football game in town. As such, outside of Texas and the surrounding states, there may not be a stronger collection of Dallas fans anywhere.
“We’ve got thousands of fans that are generational there in Los Angeles,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week.
And so now comes an intriguing return on investment – not just in merchandise sales, but a potential competitive factor.
The Cowboys play the Rams on Saturday evening at the Los Angeles Coliseum. It’s their first non-preseason game in L.A. since Oct. 25, 1992, a 28-13 victory over the then-Los Angeles Raiders.
The Coliseum is massive, with a 93,607 capacity for NFL games. The Rams are still trying to reconnect with Southern California after moving from Anaheim to St. Louis from 1995-2015. There are plenty of Rams fans (far more than the Los Angeles Chargers) but just anecdotally it has been clear all season that visiting teams have enjoyed larger-than-normal support at the Coliseum.
And now here come the Cowboys. They always turn out well on the road courtesy of a large national fan base. In L.A., fans should, at the very least, diminish if not eliminate whatever home crowd advantage the Rams, as the actual home team, would normally enjoy.
“We’re hoping to see a lot of Rams fans come out,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “We’ve had great turnouts at home this [season]. It’s been great atmospheres and environments. But Dallas is one of those franchises that travels really well.
“Obviously, them having camp out in Oxnard helps,” McVay continued. “If they do have a good amount of fans, then we’re always ready to adjust and adapt. But, we’re hoping that the Rams fans come out and support us and give us that love.”
Make no mistake, there will be plenty Rams fans there. The question will be if they are outnumbered. StubHub says ticket sales are brisk on its website, with an average price of $352.
“[It] is trending to be one of the best-selling divisional round games StubHub has ever seen,” said Scott Jablonski, general manager for NFL for StubHub. “The Cowboys are consistently the most in-demand NFL team on StubHub at home and on the road.”
Additionally promising for the Cowboys, StubHub says some 11 percent of all sales are coming from Texas.
Jones is pretty excited to tap into the pent-up demand of California Cowboy supporters, who might see impacting a game of this magnitude as a task they’ve waited decades to tackle.
“We do feel very comfortable going to Los Angeles,” Jones said.
Jones, 76, was born in Inglewood, although he was raised in North Little Rock, Arkansas, the state where he made his original fortune in the oil and land lease business. He says he still has maybe 30 cousins living in California. “When we’d go to a family reunion, they’d say, ‘Jerry, we don’t sound like you do. You sound a little bit different.’ I’d say, ‘Well, I was raised a little to the east of you guys.’”
In 1989, he bought the Cowboys for $140 million and has built it into what is estimated to be the world’s most valuable sports franchise at around $5 billion.
Jones says his comfort with Los Angeles is so great that a few years back, a group of fellow NFL owners, frustrated with the league’s inability to make a team work in Southern California, approached him with an offer. Sell the Cowboys and they’d give Jones the larger L.A. market all to himself to start or bring a new team. He obviously said no.
“That is an attractive part of the world out there,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan back in November. “But there is no place [like Dallas].”
Yet the ties to L.A. remain despite the Cowboys opening the finest practice facility in the NFL – the $1.5 billion Star of Frisco – back in Texas. Escaping the weather would no longer be a training camp concern, there are both indoor and outdoor fields, a 12,000-seat indoor stadium, a luxury hotel and what is essentially a mall and museum for all things Dallas Cowboys.
Considering the team’s local popularity, the franchise could make a small fortune by extending the full training camp there. There is even the private “Cowboys Club,” a sort of country club where the centerpiece activity is watching practice rather than golf. The initial 800 memberships sold out despite an initial fee of $4,500 plus $350 a month.
In terms of modern amenities and facilities, it overwhelms the humble grounds of Oxnard, where Residence Inn suites are turned into training and film rooms, and tents are erected on tennis courts.
Yet, the Cowboys have stayed in California through 2020 at least. That’s how much Jones values L.A., the fans there … and, of course, the dinners, nightlife and glitz down the road in Beverly Hills.
Now it might even pay off competitively for his team. Saturday night the NFL playoffs return to the L.A. Coliseum.
We’ll see which team is most at “home.”
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