It’s 1997, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his daughter Charlotte have flown to New York City for a meeting that will open his eyes about her like nothing before—or since.
After the two walk into the NBC office of Dick Ebersol and exchange niceties, Jerry slides into a chair and says, “We’re here because Charlotte has something she wants to ask you.”
Ebersol is chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, and one of the most powerful figures in television history—in or out of sports. Charlotte Jones Anderson merely needs to find a way to ask him to expand the Cowboys’ halftime show on Thanksgiving Day. And then let her produce it.
Jerry doesn’t know what to expect. He describes his feelings during that meeting as “apprehensive.” Then again, Charlotte has certainly surprised him and his wife, Gene, before.
For example, there was the time when Charlotte, while growing up in Little Rock between semesters of her sophomore year in high school, chose to transfer to another school. Longing for more diversity, she shed her safe but sheltered private-school environs in favor of Little Rock Central High, made famous a quarter-century earlier as the site of one of the country’s first major civil-rights confrontations. (President Dwight Eisenhower had to send in troops to see that black students could enter safely.)
The student body had evolved over time to become 60 percent black. Charlotte ran for student body president against the black, and vastly popular, star football running back. With 2,000 ballots cast, she lost by just four votes and in the process won over many in the student body, white and black alike.
Then there was the time upon finishing high school when she completely deserted the Arkansas womb, using an essay she wrote on the Little Rock Central High experience to help—she firmly believes—win admission to prestigious Stanford University in California. Four years later, in 1988, she received a B.S. in human biology with an emphasis in organizational management—a major unique to Stanford that included a stint with studies in Florence, Italy.
Then it was off to Washington, D.C., to become the top administrative assistant for Arkansas congressman Tommy Robinson—a character, to say the least. In 1981, as Little Rock’s sheriff, Robinson had achieved national headlines by chaining 45 inmates to fences outside their cells—his way of protesting prison overcrowding. He went to D.C. as a Democrat, switched to Republican, and later announced his intention to run for governor of Arkansas. His opponent in the primaries was Sheffield Nelson, who happened to be Jerry Jones’ best friend.
It all had the makings of one fine feud for the entire Jones family. Today, Jerry says, “Tommy was controversial and very polarizing. Charlotte had to have a very thick skin to be his right-hand person in Washington. She went directly from Stanford to Washington and began mixing it up with some of the most seasoned, aggressive people that you have in this country. I can remember at times it was so tough—[her] voice was breaking when we were communicating—but man, she got toughened up and I think that experience gave her a lot of confidence.”
Dad had purchased the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 for $150 million, not one-tenth what the brand is worth today. A year later, some of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders threatened a mini-mutiny, so to speak, over a rumor that Jerry was going to dress them in trashy halter tops and even trashier hot pants. Charlotte left the political spotlight, came to Dallas to clean up the matter, and took charge of America’s most famous cheerleaders.
She’s been here ever since.
By the time she flew with her dad to see Ebersol, the Cowboys had won a then-unprecedented three Super Bowls in a span of four seasons (1992, 1993, 1995). She’d married Shy Anderson, a Little Rock native, and given birth to a daughter, Haley, and a son, also named Shy. (Another son, Paxton, was born in 2001 on the day of Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa; her dad skipped that game to be with her.)
By then Charlotte had turned 30 and had also become a good deal more than president of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. In fact, seven years earlier, it was Charlotte, then in her early 20s, who convinced Jones to move the Cowboys’ training camp from its traditional location in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to St. Edward’s University in Austin, where it stayed until 1997.
Charlotte recalls, “The Cowboys had gone 1-15 in ’89 and [her father] would come by and say, ‘You know we’re losing $75,000 a day? Figure out a way to stop losing money. Turn the lights out, pick up your own trash, anything you can think of to keep the bank from coming to get this note.’ ”
St. Edward’s was a money saver. It was also a means to reconnect with fans statewide who had soured on the franchise after Jones walked in and abruptly fired legendary coach Tom Landry, then ran legendary President and General Manager Tex Schramm out the door a few months later. Charlotte worked trade-outs with Austin cleaners, made players available for local functions, and kept shaving the budget.
Airtime Worth $15 Million
Now it’s 1997 and she’s in Dick Ebersol’s office, asking him to expand the Cowboys’ halftime show on Thanksgiving Day. She has already lined up country star Reba McEntire to perform. She has met with Steve Reinemund, chairman of Frito-Lay and chairman of the Salvation Army’s national advisory board. She envisions making the Thanksgiving halftime extravaganza the annual kickoff for The Salvation Army’s nationwide Red Kettle campaign.
“It would be a huge, Super Bowl-style halftime show,” she tells Ebersol, “that would captivate a national TV audience.”
According to both Charlotte and her father, Ebersol answers, “No one has ever come in here and asked for airtime. Do you know how valuable that is?”
“Well, yes,” Charlotte says. “I do.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Ebersol answers finally. “If you can get the NFL to extend the halftime, and if you can put on a show worthy of production, then I’ll air your whole show. But I have to tell you, if the show is not any good, I’m going to go to commercial. So it has to be captivating for the audience at home.”
Ebersol admitted liking the feel-good aspects of tying The Salvation Army into the Thanksgiving Day theme.
Charlotte says, “So we walked out the door and my dad looked at me and said, ‘Do you have any idea what you just got?’ And I said, ‘No! I got a national television show!’ He said, ‘You just got almost $15 million [worth] of airtime right in the heart of our game. . . . Don’t let me down!’”
Jones has repeated this story over the years. On this particular telling, he says, Charlotte “did grow right there before my eyes.”
Even so, she wasn’t finished. She convinced the National Football League to extend the halftime by seven minutes, allowing time to get the huge sets on and off the field.
“I was a nervous wreck,” she says of that first Thanksgiving show, in 1997. “I didn’t want to tell anybody, but I don’t know that I knew what I was doing. You kind of have to work your way through it, because a lot of people were counting on you for all the exposure you were going to give them.”
In the 14 years since, Anderson has remained executive director and producer of the Cowboys’ huge Thanksgiving Day halftime shows. She says that other than Super Bowl halftimes, the Cowboys’ show is the most viewed live music production on TV—winning higher ratings than even the Grammys and the Emmys. A few years after she pitched the idea to Ebersol, the league itself began producing a similar halftime show for the other annual Thanksgiving Day game, in Detroit.
Is it any wonder, then, that Charlotte Anderson also participated so avidly in North Texas’ winning bid for Super Bowl XLV, to be played Feb. 4 in Arlington? The entire Jones family attended the March 2007 NFL Owners Meeting in Nashville, including Gene. Among them were Charlotte’s brother Stephen, who at 46 is two years older and the club’s executive VP, chief operating officer, and director of player personnel. Also attending was their brother Jerry Jr., 41, executive VP/chief sales and marketing officer. Charlotte’s official title with the Cowboys is executive VP/director of charities and special events.
Cowboys legend Roger Staubach, at Jerry Jones’ request, had made Dallas-Fort Worth’s official presentation to the owners. Then, while Staubach amused the others in a nearby suite by juggling pads of butter, Jones and his family remained in the meeting. Jones gave his own impassioned speech, and the voting—anticipated to be extremely close between North Texas and Indianapolis—began.
Dr. Robert Cluck, mayor of Arlington, two years ago told Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, “I have to say that I don’t think we’d have gotten the Super Bowl if not for Charlotte.”
She prefers to credit Staubach and her father. Construction of Cowboys Stadium was running behind the new dome being built in Indianapolis, and the voting indeed was tight. Charlotte worked behind the scenes, though—as she does so often while her father and brothers remain more in the spotlight. That’s where she’s often most effective.
“The bid required huge detail and reconciliation and negotiating with the NFL about specific benefits,” Jerry says. “The night before the bid was submitted, Charlotte was up all night with our bid committee staff. And weeks prior to that owners meeting, she was involved in a lot of negotiating, a lot of give and take.”
‘Elegant And Eloquent’
Those leadership qualities—perhaps enhanced by her tall, willowy presence and soft Southern lilt—have always been a key to Anderson’s business approach. Scott Murray’s production company, Murray Media, produces The Salvation Army’s grand luncheon that Charlotte once chaired. Murray also emcees numerous benefits and banquets around North Texas and often asks for help from Cowboys charities.
“She never brushes people off with a ‘Hi, how are you?’ and then moves on,” Murray says. “She’s so busy, but she has always taken the time. She’s got that never-be-denied attitude, and yet she does it in a very elegant and eloquent way.”
Murray smiles and says, “Sometimes you wonder, ‘What is Jerry going to do?’ [But Charlotte] always does things very tastefully.”
Charlotte served on the advisory council that won the bid to bring the NCAA Final Four to Cowboys Stadium in 2014. In September, she became the first woman to be named chairman of The Salvation Army’s national advisory board. More than once, Charlotte has been quoted as saying, “I think I was a juggler in another life.”
She teams with Dallas-based CorporateMagic Inc., to put on the Cowboys’ halftime shows for home games, lining up the performers while CorporateMagic creates the lighting, staging, and technical aspects.
Jim Kirk, CorporateMagic’s president and creative director, says, “Charlotte doesn’t just come out and turn stuff over to people and say, ‘Good luck; I hope you can make it work.’ She’s in there from the very beginning with a clear vision of what she wants.”
Kirk adds, “Before I met her, I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to meet Jerry’s daughter.’ But when I started working with her, I never even thought about that anymore. She’s such her own lady, and so in command of what she’s doing, and has her own charisma. You never think, ‘I’m getting a little Jerry here,’ or ‘I’m getting a little of Gene.’ I’m getting Charlotte.”
Even so, she’s still her daddy’s girl. Her business card these days simply refers to her as Charlotte Anderson. She says she usually calls him daddy when speaking to him and refers to him by name when speaking to others about him.
She cried in her daddy’s arms the day Texas Stadium came down. And he cried, too. (Tears welled up again in the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch offices as Charlotte recalled that Saturday daybreak in April 2010, causing her to dab at the corners of her eyes.)
It’s easy to think of Texas Stadium as the place where Landry wore his fedora, Schramm barked at officials from the press box, and so many great players and teams performed during the 1970s and ’80s. The Cowboys had been labeled America’s Team long before Jones took over.
Jerry Jones says he anticipated from the beginning that the entire family would eventually get involved with the team. The NFL has a long history of family affairs—the Halas and McCaskey families in Chicago, the Maras in New York, the Rooneys in Pittsburgh, the DeBartolos and Yorks in San Francisco, and so on.
But Jerry Jones had been an oilman in Arkansas, and the family had never joined in any business venture. When a franchise is purchased, the NFL does not mail bluebooks or “How To” manuals to new owners. As Jones puts it, “There’s no dress rehearsal.” And if those new owners choose to clean house, as Jones did, then everyone really is starting from scratch.
“A lot of people go into the family business and end up working for their fathers,” Charlotte says. “But we all kind of began at the same level. All we had to do was try to do our best not to mess up. Jerry never told us, ‘You’re not doing it the right way.’ It was always, ‘Try whatever you can, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll just keep on going.’”
The Jones family did indeed move the Dallas Cowboys into a new era, dramatically increasing the franchise’s value, even though the team’s on-field successes have waned and largely disappointed its huge fan base for more than a decade now. They hear the grumblings.
“There’s always going to be people who resist and don’t like change, no matter what,” Anderson says. “And there are always going to be those who think you should constantly be reinventing yourself. You’re never going to make everybody happy.
“There are still days that you don’t want to get up and read the paper. And then there are days that you can’t wait to get up and read the paper. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. We have always tried to make decisions in the best interest of the organization, with respect for the tradition in the past, but with the future definitely in mind.”
Each member of the family had input in the new stadium in Arlington. Charlotte says, “There’s not a light switch plate or a screw in that building that we didn’t approve or select.”
She and her mother formed an arts council to choose the stadium’s artwork. Charlotte even picked out the aggregate for the sidewalks outside the stadium.
On that morning in April when Texas Stadium came down, Charlotte, her dad, and daughter joined 20,000 others, some of whom were tailgating. The Jones trio chose a spot near State Highway 183, on a rise in the Gold Lot overlooking the stadium.
“We thought it was going to be a formality,” Anderson says. “We had already done our farewell at the final game played in Texas Stadium, and our minds had been on building the new stadium.
“When Texas Stadium imploded, every concussion that went with those booms just felt like you were getting hit right in the stomach. Then it just came down, and we were crying and we were just such a mess we had to leave.”
Now an even newer tradition is being built in Arlington. But, ah, the memories.
Scott Murray says Jones has told him more than once about the time he took his daughter to meet with Dick Ebersol in New York: “Jerry said, ‘I looked at Charlotte that day and I thought, Oh my gosh, this is my daughter; that was a home run she just hit.’”
Actually, it was more of a touchdown. And Charlotte Jones Anderson isn’t done yet.