A Texas-Size Stadium
The new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tx, is a three million square foot structure that is three times the size of the team's old home, Texas Stadium. More Photos >
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
Published: July 16, 2009
ARLINGTON, Tex. — Jerry Jones, tour guide, was showing off.
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Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, gestured as he drove his Lincoln Town Car around his billion-dollar stadium with the sloping glass exterior that reflects the colors of the sky, his team and his eyes.
He pointed out the views of the field and the gargantuan, 72-by-160-foot dual video screens fans will discover as they approach the gates. He explained how the retractable glass end zone doors were designed to slide away and — in mere minutes — allow in the Texas air.
Lost in the excitement of the show and tell, Jones trampled a couple of traffic cones and nearly flattened two fans walking to the $15-per-person stadium tour. He didn’t seem to notice.
“I could have built this for $850 million,” he said. “And it would have been a fabulous place to play football. But this was such an opportunity for the ‘wow factor.’ ”
He wants his stadium to shout media and scream that the future of watching football is in his building. The video screens, nestled between the 20-yard lines, tower above the field and will carry the Cowboys’ own game feed from eight live cameras.
“That’s why I spent the money,” Jones, 66, said. “It has a chance to be one of the most visible buildings in this country.”
At three million square feet, the stadium designed by Bryan Trubey of Dallas-based HKS Architects is three times as large as the Cowboys’ old home, Texas Stadium, in nearby Irving, and twice the size of the new Yankee Stadium. With a price tag of $1.12 billion, it is the N.F.L.’s priciest building — but will be eclipsed next year by the $1.6 billion Jets-Giants stadium.
Cowboys Stadium benefited from lower labor and material costs compared with those in the New York area.
For their first regular-season game at the stadium, on Sept. 20 against the Giants, Jones expects a crowd of 100,000, among them thousands who will pay $29 to stand on platforms and staircases above the end zones.
“It’s a great view there,” he said. Actual seats start at $59 a ticket and top off at $340 a game.
The Cowboys, the most valuable team in sports last year at $1.6 billion, according to Forbes, are opening their stadium during a severe recession, as the Yankees and the Mets did in April. The downturn has kept Jones from selling naming rights, but with his stadium debt whittled from $350 million to $200 million, he said he did not need the cash.
He said repeatedly during a lengthy interview that he was sensitive to his fans’ economic woes — although he has not cut prices. He said he was also sensitive to criticism that Arlington had better ways to spend its $325 million contribution from tax increases than to guarantee that Jones, a rich oilman, could get richer with more revenue from the new stadium.
“The mayor sold out and the council went right along,” said James Runzheimer, a local lawyer who opposed the tax increase passed in November 2004 during better economic days. “We don’t provide basic infrastructure, yet we subsidize a team.”
Jones says Cowboys Stadium will be its own stimulus package that will help “the country and this world” dig out of the recession. Meanwhile, most studies show little economic impact from new stadiums.
Jones’s pursuit of a new Cowboys home with Dallas (which spurned him) and Irving continued the tradition of team owners romancing cities in search of the best deal.
“As far back as 15 years ago,” he said, “I’d go to the floor of the Texas Legislature and I’d say: ‘You’re not creating a subsidy to build a stadium, you’re priming the pump for people intoxicated with being involved in sports. Use them to prime the pump with private dollars, because invariably, they’ll spend more than you’d ever imagine.’ ”
Arlington also bought in by using its power of eminent domain to clear the land of residential and commercial property.
“The landowners came out really well on eminent domain,” Jones said.
But only after some hired lawyers to get more, he was reminded.
“That’s correct,” he said.
Mayor Robert Cluck added, “The public’s mind has changed from, ‘We probably shouldn’t have done that,’ to now we hardly hear negative words.”
But Glenn Sodd, who represented property owners in legal challenges to the city’s offers for their land, said the condemnation issue still resonates. “It’s a misuse of the Texas Constitution and the U.S. Constitution,” he said. “To say we in this community need this stadium is a gross mischaracterization. We might desire it. We might wish to have it. But no one’s condemning land to build grocery stores.”
But he said: “I don’t blame Jones. He’s in business to make money.”
Jones said he expected team revenue to rise at least 50 percent this season, but declined to be more specific. The franchise will also profit from renting out the stadium for other events — including concerts, religious conferences, next year’s N.B.A. All-Star Game and the 2014 N.C.A.A. Final Four.
He said he has sold 290 of his 315 luxury suites for $100,000 to $500,000 each but only about two-thirds of his 15,000 club seats, which license for $16,000 to $150,000 apiece. That is largely how the debt was reduced. (The licenses do not include the cost of tickets.)
Sitting in a luxury box at the 50-yard line, he asked for a sales update from Chad Estis, the team’s vice president for sales and marketing. “How many licenses are we sellin’?”
“O.K., O.K.,” he said into a cellphone. “A total of 165.” He listened. “So that was for the week. Add that up, you’ve got 12 weeks, 12 weeks times 165, I don’t know if you expect a spike as we get down to selling into the season.”
What he is selling is a long tradition of winning, Hall of Fame alumni, a championship aura and a chance to lease a piece of greatness.
Although the unsold club seats are in prime spots, Jones said he would tolerate the sight of scattered empty seats without hiring seat-fillers. But he vows there will be no splotches of unfilled seats similar to those infesting baseball stadiums this year.
He is his own lead salesman and a sugary one at that. As he walked through the plush Owner’s Club, he approached a couple considering a suite.
“Hello, Sherri,” he said, drawing out the first syllable of her name. “Well, hello, Mike.” The Maucelis, of Dallas, praised the design of the stadium.
“But having been in your house,” Sherri Mauceli said, “I’m not surprised.”
Jones said, “If you’re going to do it, get it right.” He talked about the marble floors picked out by his wife, Gene, and the stadium’s contemporary art works — like the one by Olafur Eliasson titled “Fat Superstar” that cast a colorful, geometric pattern nearby.
Although Jones can wax on about how art connects to tackling, he was here to seal the deal. “It’s more than a seat where you just watch a game,” he told the couple. “It’s the opportunity to have a piece of the past and all that will take place in the next 30 years of its future.”
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