The National Football League’s (NFL) Dallas Cowboys are “America’s team,” from its new stadium, to five Super Bowl championships, to the cheerleaders on the sidelines that have formed a distinct brand on their own.
Forbes recently listed the Dallas Cowboys as the No. 2 most valuable sports franchise, and highest in the NFL valued at US$1.65 billion. Through the years, the franchise has found ways to make money off of its cheerleaders. While cheerleaders don’t bring in tons of money to an NFL franchise, it is reported that a squad does bring in an extra US$1 million per season.
Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders perform in a halftime show of the Thanksgiving day NFL football game between the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders on 26 November, 2009, in Arlington, Texas.
Cheerleading in the NFL has been around for about 50 years starting in the sixties when the Baltimore Colts (now Indianapolis Colts) established the first ever NFL cheerleading squad. Several other teams followed suit and established squads as well but it was the Dallas Cowboys that made NFL cheerleaders the ones we know today with the revealing costumes and the dance routines.
Cheerleading has been growing for quite some time as a sport in the US, and now has a reported 3 million active participants, making it a new target for sponsors. Varsity Spirit, a company catering to cheerleading needs, had revenue approaching US$150 million last year. In 2001, the company sold its Riddell football-helmet division, claiming that football wasn’t growing and that cheerleading was where business is at. American Cheerleader magazine made its debut in 1994 and now boasts 200,000 in circulation with readership of 1 million.
One of Varsity Spirit’s main competitors, GTM Sportswear, recently signed sponsorship agreements with 11 NFL teams: the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans. Details of the sponsorships differ by team; however, ostensibly the new agreement sees GTM Sportswear providing the cheer leading teams with team kits in return for various promotional elements, including the company’s logo featured on the team’s websites, jumbotron advertisements during games and events, program ads, photo cards, season tickets, radio spots, and personal appearances.
While best known for their trademark high kicks and pom routines during Dallas Cowboys football games, the Cowboys cheerleaders brand has reached well beyond the sidelines since their debut in 1972. Since then, they have been on nationally televised halftime shows, on Country Music Television (CMT), camps for kids, hundreds of personal appearances and performances across the country, personal visits with patients and residents of children's hospitals, veteran's hospitals and nursing homes and more overseas trips in support of America's soldiers than any other entertainers over the last 25 years.
One of the ways that the Cowboys have marketed their cheerleaders is through merchandise. In addition to an annual swimsuit calendar, the Cowboys also run a camp every summer for aspiring cheerleaders where participants pay US$189 for the three-day session. The team makes a reported US$500,000 per season through appearances, as they charge US$200 per hour, per cheerleader. Despite being the most famous cheerleaders in the world, the Cowboys cheerleaders only make a reported US$50 per game, roughly US$200 per month, which is towards the bottom-tier of the league in salary.
Jerry Jones, the current owner/GM of the Cowboys who bought the franchise for US$150 million in 1989, was the first owner to strike his own stadium deals with Nike and Pepsi. He is currently the only owner to market his team's memorabilia himself, having inked an agreement with JC Penny, making the chain the exclusive retailer of Cowboys, and Cowboy’s cheerleaders, apparel in the southwest. Dallas-based JC Penny was a Cowboys cheerleader sponsor for years, so it was a natural fit.
On 2 August, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders signed Bed Head, a leader in the beauty and hair care industry, as the official make-up and hair product sponsor for the fourth year in a row.
“Our cheerleaders recognize the importance of quality make-up and hair care products,” said Kelli Finglass, Director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. “We are particularly impressed with Bed Head by TIGI's sophisticated, yet fun approach to make-up and hair care and the extensive line of products which combine expertise, fashion sense and creativity. We strive for our diverse DCC squad to represent a cross section of American women, and we believe that the extensive variety and unsurpassed quality of Bed Head by TIGI products make them a valuable partner in our overall effort to maintain the trend setting excellence of America's Sweethearts.”
The uniforms, featuring the famous blouse, vest and shorts, were originally designed by Paula Van Waggoner of the Lester Melnick store in Dallas. Since first being introduced, there have been only six modifications to the uniform. In May of 1989 the original "go-go" boot had gone out of style and a more western oriented design was selected. In 1991, the large buckled belt was left behind in favor of shorts with a cut. 1992 brought a cowboy-style boot to the uniform, and in 1993 crystals were added to outline the fifteen stars on the vest and shorts. 1994 brought a more western shape to the blouse lapels, and in 1999, crystals were added to the fringe line of the vest.
While NFL cheerleading teams are growing into their own brand, college cheerleading sponsorships are extremely rare. One of the few college cheerleading sponsorships is Stanford Group’s sponsorship of the Louisiana State University (LSU) cheer team, signed in 2007. Stanford Group gets signage on the field at Tiger Stadium, as well as various LSU coordinated pep rallies and cheerleading clinics, and has its logo on the team’s megaphones. The company also sponsors the University of Mississippi’s cheerleading teams.
Today, cheerleading is very much a part of the American sporting culture as sports such as football and baseball. There have been numerous movies made that involve cheerleaders, professional sports squads such as the Cowboy cheerleaders being featured on television shows, a cheerleader reality show and there are even video games for the Nintendo and Wii systems.
Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders take the field before the Cowboys' final regular season NFL football game at Texas Stadium, against the Baltimore Ravens on 20 December, 2008, in Irving, Texas. The Cowboys cheerleaders have one of the most distinct uniforms in sports, and have only modified it six times since its debut in 1972.