Jones hopes Web site a winner


Friday, July 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


Dallascowboys.com enters 2000 season sporting new partners

As the Dallas Cowboys move through their first week of training camp, owner Jerry Jones is rewriting the team's Internet playbook.
Mr. Jones, who remains a strong advocate of local marketing for sports teams, wants to move the Cowboys quickly ahead of the rest of the National Football League in electronic commerce.

And he's plunging forward, even though he still has questions about how much money the Cowboys can make in cyberspace and how the Internet will affect existing revenue streams such as broadcasting and sponsorships.

"Jerry wants to be innovative," says Richard Nanula, chairman of Broadband Sports Inc., one of Mr. Jones' new Internet partners. "He wants to push the envelope."

Over the last few years, the Cowboys' Internet business has been in flux. The team first worked with Nortel Networks Corp. in 1996 but switched a year ago to Catalog.com of Oklahoma City.

Now for the 2000 season and beyond, Mr. Jones has forged partnerships with a new group of Internet companies to upgrade www.dallascowboys.com – most notably, Broadband and Dallas' eSports Partners Inc.

Based in Santa Monica, Calif., Broadband operates Web sites for quarterback Troy Aikman and 250 other athletes. ESports Partners Inc., a year-old start-up, sees the Cowboys as the linchpin to landing other customers in sports and entertainment.

"We're wanting to involve our fans," Mr. Jones says.


Extra features

The revamped dallascowboys.com, offers team news and multimedia coverage. Before the season starts, the site will add a pay-per-view area called Extreme Access. The idea is to offer premium information – including reports from coaches' meetings – for which fans will pay extra.

Broadband Sports will manage dallascowboys.com, contributing its own content and using it for the Cowboys' internal audio and visual facilities. ESports Partners will handle the Extreme Access area, the price for which has yet to be fixed.

"It will be cheaper than going to dinner," says Michael McKay, chief executive for eSports Partners.

Mr. McKay expects eSports Partners to sign deals with other NFL teams before the season starts. Then the company wants to approach motorsports, soccer, hockey, baseball, basketball, recording artists and movie producers.

"It's mindboggling, the size of the market," he says.

The revamped Web site will offer fans an opportunity to interact with Cowboys players and coaches, Mr. Jones says. For most veteran Cowboys, participation in the team's Web site will be voluntary, although standard language in NFL contracts obligates players to cooperate with the media. This year, the Cowboys inserted a clause in rookie contracts that specifically obligates cooperation with dallascowboys.com.

Behind all the talk about fan experience and new gadgetry lies an equation without a clear answer: The Cowboys and their partners expect to make money off the Internet, but they aren't sure how much.

Dallascowboys.com will produce revenue from advertising, Extreme Access subscription fees and sales of Cowboys merchandise.

The advertising component, Mr. Jones says, won't become a scramble for new business. Instead, it will center on charging more to provide additional exposure for existing Cowboys partners, such as Pepsi-Cola and Miller Beer.

To cement its deal with Broadband Sports, the Cowboys reportedly made an upfront investment of $5 million, and the team will split Web site revenues with its two Internet partners.

"The more revenue we generate for the Cowboys, the more revenue we get," Mr. Nanula says.

Mr. Jones says the Web site won't run afoul of the NFL's new Internet rules, and he doesn't expect another legal showdown. In 1995, Mr. Jones and the NFL sued each other over Mr. Jones' independent sponsorship deals at Texas Stadium. The matter was settled out of court.

"The place to resolve the best way to do this is not in a court of law," Mr. Jones says. "There's an area of disagreement. We plan on adhering to the policy, but there are differences in interpretation."

Because the NFL is still reviewing the Internet agreement with the franchises, league spokesman Greg Aiello declined to say whether the NFL would have any trouble with the Cowboys' deal.


League rules

In March, Mr. Jones voted against the NFL's new Internet policy. Among the new rules:

•Teams can develop their own Web sites.

•They can use NFL-owned game footage on the Internet.

•Franchises must incorporate their Web sites into the official NFL.com.

Mr. Aiello says the new policy strives to balance central control of Internet marketing and franchise control of Web sites.

"Each team is responsible for setting up and operating its own Web site, and that will be linked to the rest of the NFL," he noted.

Mr. Jones applauded the freedoms given to the clubs, but he fought against making NFL.com. the sole distributor, meaning teams cannot do business with such companies as America Online Inc.

"Everybody agreed that nobody's got all the answers," he says.

The NFL's Internet agreement expires in 2003, the same year as the long-term deal that gives the league control of team logos and trademarks. Mr. Jones says he'll take back control of the Cowboys brands, asserting that owners will have greater incentive to market teams if they don't have to share the revenue with the NFL's 31 other teams, including the new Houston franchise.

In the end, Mr. Jones feels the same about the Internet: "The club is best situated to do all club marketing. I doubt the Internet is going to change that."

At the same time, the Cowboys say they're still feeling their way into the new economy.

"It's always going to be a work in progress," says Jerry Jones Jr., who heads the Cowboys' Internet operations. "A year from now, we'll probably still be talking about what's new on the site."

To go to the dallascowboys.com website,click here.