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Charlotte Jones on How the Dallas Cowboys Turned a Sports Team Into a Lifestyle

In a conversation with D CEO, the Cowboys Chief Brand Officer talks Cowboys coworking unit Formation, equity partnerships, multigenerational marketing, and more.
By  |
Jill Broussard

Charlotte Jones on How the Dallas Cowboys Turned a Sports Team Into a Lifestyle

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Driving onto One Cowboys Way, the energy is high. And it’s not just because the 6-2 Cowboys are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Instead, it has more to do with the community the Jones family has built at The Star in Frisco.

Becoming the most valuable sports franchise in the world takes more than a football team. And The Star is evidence of just who the Dallas Cowboys are. The campus is unlike any other, from various retailers and restaurants to a 60,000 square-foot luxurious gym and the Cowboys’ state-of-the-art practice facilities. And one budding venture at The Star, which can be found on the third floor, is the Cowboys’ take on coworking: Formation.

In 2019 the Jones family desired to bring the spirit of the Cowboys winning business tradition to start-ups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. And out of that dream, Formation was born. The 18,000-square-foot facility, decorated with Cowboys memorabilia throughout, offers tenants private desks, call closets, conference rooms, collaborative spaces, in-house catering, access to Cowboys Fit, a view that overlooks the Cowboys practice field, a schedule of networking events with Cowboy execs, and legends, and many more amenities.

With more than 300 tenants and a 6-month waitlist, Formation has quickly become a hotspot for businesses looking for a little more flexibility in their real estate portfolio or individual entrepreneurs needing a winning environment to work.

Recently, D CEO met up with Cowboys Chief Brand Officer Charlotte Jones at Formation to talk about the state-of-the-art space and marketing lessons, the importance of a diverse portfolio, equity-based partnerships, and how the Cowboys turned a sports team into a lifestyle.

This conversation has been edited for clarity.

Formation at The Star

D CEO: Tell me about Formation’s origins and how it has evolved since opening in 2019.

JONES: “A lot of our business partners in The Star who had regular office space or were Cowboys Club members kept bugging us with the question: ‘What’s the next thing that you’re a part of? Because whatever it is, we’d be interested in it.’ And so, we started Formation right after we had finished the Cowboys Club. Our mission was not to become the next WeWork; our mission was to give something to people through the affinity of the Cowboys that we felt could really be unique and that they would really gravitate to.

“As it turns out, as we all went through COVID, this has become even more of a thriving opportunity for people to be a part of. I think we all went through the COVID phase trying to realign our priorities, asking ourselves what we actually want. A lot of people enjoyed the opportunity to be closer to their family, to take the chaos out of their work-life, and figured out how to readdress that.

“Now more than ever before, Formation does that. It gives people a reason to want to leave their home. But then when they leave their home, they have everything they need here on our campus. I think we all need that inspiration to be around people. Our tenant’s excitement was high all through COVID. They kept asking us during the shutdowns, ‘When are you opening your doors back up? We need to come up. We need it. We need it.’ And it’s really just been a great thing for us to be able to offer, but then to even experience working in the space ourselves.”

D CEO: What gap in the coworking market did the Cowboys feel it could fill?

JONES: “We saw that we could actually do something that was coworking but with a very unique spin on it. Not all the coworking spaces are like ours. I think the most valuable things we’re able to give to other people a lot of times is just the way in which we do business: our ethos, our philosophy, and our mindset.

“When you can create a space that shares those characteristics, people gravitate to that. And we have been able to share with them our own internal expertise with our tenants, helping them out with sales, marketing, execution, and finance. That is how the Dallas Cowboys function. I think we certainly saw the trend of the open workspace idea and we knew we wanted to do it in our way and Formation is the result of that. I think what we have is really amazing, and now even more so I think coworking as a whole is not only relevant, but necessary.”

D CEO: Coworking is booming, and because this place has a six-month waitlist, Formation is obviously booming, too. Are you thinking about another location?

JONES: “That is part of our evaluation from a business standpoint. As we went through COVID, we thought through a lot of great ideas, but after a while pulled back and decided to let our roots lie here before we strive out to try something new. It’s much like Cowboy Fit: putting different models in other places that have been successful to get the demand up and running, and to get everybody excited about it. Then after that we figure out where the next strategic place to put that is. That’s a long way to say that this is process, but the answer is yes.

“We’re always thinking about expanding our brand through various entities, whether it be Formation, Fit, or some other concept. Then after that, figuring out when the timing is right. Right now, we’re looking to find a great partnership coupled with a great location. Our various business avenues is our great hustle, so I cannot wait to see where we go from here.”

Formation at The Star

D CEO: You mentioned the Cowboys operating as an entity that offers an ethos, a philosophy, and a mindset. You guys aren’t just a football team, this is a business–the most valuable sports franchise in the world. Talk to me about how you turned a sports team into a lifestyle.

JONES: “I love that you used that word ‘lifestyle’ because, I like to use that word around here. My title is the Chief Brand Officer, but to be honest, I really hate the word ‘brand.’ Roy Disney once said, ‘A brand is something that ranchers do to cattle, so they can tell their cattle apart.’ How do you tell something that looks exactly alike, apart? We’re not that. Here, with the Dallas Cowboys, we separate ourselves. Not just because we have a star on our helmet, and our opponents have something else; but I’ve always felt that the value of what we have as a culture–learned when we first got involved with the Cowboys back in the 60s–that people’s affinity and connection to who we are truly was an inspiration to how our fans lived their lives. So, recognizing that impact was really important for us, but expanding that impact out and growing that was really the driving factor in how we have grown the different avenues of the Dallas Cowboys. What you see at The Star is exactly that.

“There are great universities like Notre Dame, you can’t own. Notre Dame is inherent, it’s in the blood of those who go there. It is part of their identity. And that’s who the Dallas Cowboys are. We’ve just had the opportunity to enhance that and deepen that. In these different initiatives we’ve done, it’s been an eye towards inherent enhancement.

“We ask ourselves all the time, ‘what do people love to do? How do we connect to them? How do we connect their enthusiasm here into this part of their life?’ We have people in our building that are a part of all of it; they can’t get enough of our lifestyle. They want to work at Formation. They want to be a part of the Cowboys Club. They want to work out at Cowboys Fit. We have built a live, work, and play lifestyle. And that was always our goal. When companies can authentically connect to people and be really who they are, then consumers gravitate to that. And they want to take every step with you.”

D CEO: Can you touch on marketing to different age brackets? I notice here at Formation there are Gen-Z tenants and the grizzled vet execs. How do the Cowboys market to such a broad consumer base within these walls and across all verticals?

JONES: “This is such a great question, because I actually have my own little petri dish that I observe on a daily basis. My children are 20, 26, and 28. So, honestly, as they grew up, it became very apparent, even the difference between the older two, and the younger one, there was a difference in habits.

“And, you know, my younger one asks, ‘What is email?’ And my dad, [Jerry Jones] asks me the same thing: ‘What is email?’ For two different reasons, right? So that gap in between is our market. How does a company hit both marks that are so far away from one another? Then there is always the next generation that is coming and we’re already trying to understand how their mind works. We have always believed that anything we do, we need to drop in our idea in the middle of where all the eyeballs are.

“Take our Salvation Army kettle initiative we do every holiday season at AT&T Stadium, for example. When you have all those gathered eyeballs in a game and you can drop in a message in the middle of it, everybody catches the message. If you try to put the message somewhere obscure, nobody is going to catch it. Understanding where eyeballs are, whether they are 12 years old, 22, 42, or 82, allows us to then drive on and target individually to that age bracket. What we’ve seen, what everyone has seen, over time is that the evolution of marketing in general, even for our game broadcast, we are now targeting pockets of people with individually tailored messages.

“Because people think differently, people spend their time differently; we have to understand every generation. Then we have to craft our message so that it engages everybody. We have had the benefit in our sport of products that reach down into a younger generation, from Madden video games to fantasy football. Everybody wants a deeper engagement with our team. So, with so many verticals we’ve created something where our fans need everything they can possibly consume.”

D CEO: How important is it for companies, sports franchises, and individual entrepreneurs to have diversified portfolios? It’s easy to find a niche and stick with it. But the Cowboys are a sports team, weekly entertainment, coworking, a gym, and a lifestyle.

JONES: “This is interesting. When we first bought the team–when my father first bought the Cowboys in 1989–he never dreamed that the football team would be the business. He always felt that he would have this team and that the affinity of the team would drive the interest into a separate business. Whether it was selling Cowboy merchandise, Cowboy widgets, Cowboy burgers, or whatever it was that he could sell, that the revenue that comes from the business comes from creating affinity.

“Well, that turned out to be the case. It just took on a term called sponsorship. Take our approach to how we integrate with Molson Coors for example. We don’t just say, ‘Okay, we can associate with Miller,’ and be done with it. We literally lie awake at night asking ourselves, ‘How are we going to help Miller bring more people in to our building? How are we going to get them to come to the Miller LiteHouse?  That has always been our mindset.

07 September 2021: Ribbon cutting at the Miller Lite House grand opening at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Stephen Jones, Chief Operating Officer, Dallas Cowboys; Charlotte Jones, Chief Brand Officer, Dallas Cowboys; Jerry Jones, Owner, President & General Manager, Dallas Cowboys; Adam Dettman, Head of Partnerships Ð North America, MolsonCoors; and Jerry Jones, Jr., Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Dallas Cowboys.

“As we added that kind of ethos of partnerships, then we thought, ‘Well, what if we actually did part of that other business?’ And our first step was actually with Papa John’s. So, we actually bought some Papa John’s pizza joints and partnered with them in an equity situation. Then we ventured off into a partnership with Omni Hotels.

“We are not an operator, but we are a business venture. The Omni knows how to run hotels, but we can be an equity partner with the Omni, and we can bring our brand to the table with them and use that affinity again and again and again. We are always building; looking for more great ideas. That is our constant pursuit here with the Dallas Cowboys.”

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