Jerry Jones is one of the most recognized names in sports. It all started in 1989 when Jones purchased the Dallas Cowboys. Since that time, the Cowboys have become the most valuable franchise in all of sports. And it almost never happened for Jones. That’s because several years earlier, Donald Trump had a chance to buy America’s Team. He didn’t. Instead, he bought the New Jersey Generals.
Jerry Jones buys Dallas Cowboys
In February 1989, Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys for a staggering record amount of $140 million. It was the first time a team had been purchased for more than $100 million. Jones promptly established he was in control and dismissed legendary head coach Tom Landry, a move that angered many fans.
Jones didn’t care. It was business, plain and simple. While the Cowboys began a quick turnaround on the field with the hiring of head coach Jimmy Johnson and numerous quality draft picks including Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, behind the scenes Jones battled the NFL over its merchandise arrangement.
He knew the Cowboys brought in 25 percent of the NFL’s merchandise revenue but only received a portion of the profits. He signed deals with Nike and Pepsi, a director competitor of the league’s beverage sponsor Coca-Cola.
The NFL sued, but Jones won, and in the process, generated millions of dollars for the Cowboys franchise. Those millions combined with the team’s success in the 1990s — three Super Bowl titles — and the Cowboys’ value skyrocketed. Today, the team is currently worth $5.5 billion.
Donald Trump buys New Jersey Generals
Donald Trump bought the New Jersey Generals of the USFL for just under $10 million in 1983, just months before the team’s second season in the new spring league. Much like Jerry Jones would do years later, Trump fired head coach Chuck Fairbanks as his first big move. He then sought out some of the top coaches in the NFL.
Trump visited with Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins. After those talks failed, he turned to Don Shula. Shula was interested but bailed when Trump reportedly told the media it was a “done deal” before Shula had agreed to the contract. After Penn State head coach Joe Paterno turned down the job, Trump eventually settled on former New York Jets head coach Walt Michaels.
After going 6-12 during their inaugural season, even with Herschel Walker running for 1,812 yards and scoring 17 touchdowns, Trump, who also served as the team’s general manager, brought in NFL players including quarterback Brian Sipe from Cleveland, and fullback Maurice Carthon.
The Generals improved on the field under Trump’s new leadership and finished the 1984 season with a 14-4 record but lost in the first round of the playoffs. After one more season, the USFL folded.
Donald Trump rejected chance to buy Dallas Cowboys before Jerry Jones did
Just months after Donald Trump purchased the Generals, he sat down with the New York Times to talk about his new team, why he bought it, and most interestingly, why he decided not to buy the Dallas Cowboys when he had the chance.
”I could have bought an NFL team. There were three or four available — that still are available, including, of course, the Dallas Cowboys. I could have bought an NFL club for $40 million or $50 million, but it’s established and you would just see it move laterally. Not enough to create there.”
Trump bought the Generals because he predicted it would increase in value and be worth the $50 million he refused to pay for the other NFL teams like the Cowboys.
”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’re having troubles, he’ll be known to the world as a loser.”
Jerry Jones is known as a lot of things, but a loser in sports and business isn’t one of them. Despite not winning a Super Bowl in 25 seasons, the Cowboys have won three Super Bowls under his watch. And of course, that $140 million Jones spent in 1989 is now worth $5.5 billion. Donald Trump may be president, but it’s clear who made the better business decision when it comes to sports team ownership.