The Dallas Cowboys haven’t appeared in a Super Bowl since winning it in 1996. In the last decade, they’ve made just three postseason appearances. Despite that lack of on-field success, according to television ratings for the 2019 season, America’s Team hasn’t lost its luster and is still the most-watched NFL team on TV today.
Becoming America’s Team
Back in the 1970s, the NFL’s nationally televised game regularly featured the Dallas Cowboys, and with good reason. The Dallas Cowboys were the definition of success. During that decade, Dallas made the playoffs every season except in 1974, and earned trips to five Super Bowls, winning a couple.
The Cowboys roster consistently included a who’s who of star players. On offense, there were future Hall of Famers Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett, along with Drew Pearson, Robert Newhouse, and Calvin Hill.
The defensive side of the ball didn’t lack in name recognition with nicknamed players like Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, as well as Harvey Martin, Randy White, and Mel Renfro.
The big-name players, coupled with the team’s success, regularly drew sellout crowds and big audiences on television. Add into the mix the creation of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, and you have the trifecta of appeal.
In 1978, Bob Ryan, who is now vice president and editor-in-chief of NFL Films, noticed the nationwide interest and coined the phrase in the team’s highlight film. It stuck. A brand was born.
Jerry Jones the headline maker
The success of the team dwindled in the early 1980s, and in 1985, the Cowboys made their last playoff appearance of the decade. Despite the team’s struggles, the fans continued to show up.
In 1989, when Jerry Jones bought the flailing organization, he came in and immediately made wholesale changes. He fired Tom Landry and replaced him with Jimmy Johnson. He fired the general manager, Tex Schramm, and decided to install himself in the role.
The Cowboys then made their best moves drafting players like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin—all future Hall of Famers. All that talent on the field resulted in a quick rise back to prominence when the Cowboys won consecutive Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993.
To his credit, Jones, who has never been one to shy away from the television cameras, has always made himself available to the media. Whether the team was struggling to a 1-15 finish like his first season as team owner, or winning Super Bowls, Jones has always been reliable for a quote or two.
He’s well known for going on radio talk shows and offering up his opinions on the team’s performance, not to mention his regular comments after each game. Through it all, he’s always been about marketing and keeping the brand front and center.
Today’s team just as popular
While the Cowboys haven’t had a sustained period of success in the last decade, the brand is still strong according to the 2019 regular-season television numbers.
Despite an 8-8 record and missing the playoffs, the Cowboys played in the most-viewed game of the 2019 regular season and three of the Top 5, all of them losses.
The 26-15 loss to the Bills on Thanksgiving shown on CBS was the most-watched game of the year, averaging a stout 32.6 million viewers. The Cowboys came in second most-watched as well in their 13-9 defeat to the New England Patriots broadcast on Fox. That game averaged 29.9 million viewers.
For some perspective, the Toronto Raptors’ series-clinching win over the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals averaged 26 million viewers across the U.S. and Canada. The Washington Nationals’ defeat of the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the World Series drew 23 million viewers.
On NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” which has been the highest-rated prime-time show a record nine straight years, the Cowboys had the two largest audiences averaging 24.8 million and 23.6 million viewers, respectively.
Last season’s numbers are nothing new. In 2018, four of the top 10 most-watched games featured the Cowboys, and six of the top 10 most-watched regular-season games of 2017 involved Dallas.
All these numbers show it doesn’t matter if fans love them or hate them, they’re watching them. Just like Jerry wants it.