FOXBOROUGH, Mass. –While the Dallas Cowboys are due to visit the New England Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS), there is plenty of intrigue, starting at the top.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Patriots owner Robert Kraft set the tone for their respective franchises.
They have nine Super Bowl Championships – three for Jones and six for Kraft – between them.
Their teams are rated the richest in the NFL by Forbes – the $ 6.5 billion Cowboys, the $ 5 billion Patriots.
And they’re powerhouses when it comes to NFL business – Jones is known for his innovations in marketing, corporate sponsorship, and stadium development; Kraft is a major player in the league’s massive TV deals and helped end the 2011 lockout, among others.
Before their teams face off on Sunday, the two answered questions from ESPN.com about their connection to each other, their teams and their vision for the NFL.
The requests to speak with Kraft and Jones were specific to their bond, not other league issues like Jon Gruden’s resignation as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.
You entered the league five years apart (Jones in 1989, Kraft in 1994). How was the relationship at the beginning?
Jones : “At the Atlanta Super Bowl [XXVIII], I invited him [and] he sat in the box with me at that game. I was very optimistic. Bob had come in a succession of owners who had really been challenged and I knew he had really stepped up. He paid a sum [$175 million] who exceeded what I paid [$140 million] for the Cowboys. I was very optimistic and positive about the future of the NFL, and I was proud to see him come in and make that kind of commitment. I felt like we were in similar shoes. I saw a lot of similarities with my involvement with the Cowboys, so I really wanted him to benefit from everything I had learned in my first four or five years in the NFL. And he has a great personality. It is really easy to befriend and talk. We both had common ground about our motivation and our vision for the future of the NFL and our franchise. So it was easy to have that relationship. “
Kraft : “Jerry was one of the first owners to welcome me to the NFL. He was kind enough to invite me to sit with him in his Super Bowl suite that year in Atlanta when the Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills. I was overwhelmed by the I had been a Patriots season ticket holder for 23 years, and by that time the Patriots had only put on one playoff game, a game we lost to the Houston Oilers in 1978. Just days after buying the Patriots, I was sitting in the owners suite at the Super Bowl with Jerry Jones and his guests. I had stardust in my eyes. It was a remarkable experience and certainly helped identify an organizational goal. Watching the Cowboys win that Super Bowl was an experience I wanted to share with all of New England.
“I inherited a team that was only a few years away from seasons 1-15 and 2-14. Jerry had a similar experience when he bought the Cowboys, going from 1-15 in his first year in the league. Yet in five years the Cowboys have won two back-to-back Super Bowls. I faced the same challenge of buying a franchise that had always struggled. I wanted to transform the Patriots franchise and spending time with Jerry during my first few weeks as an owner in this league gave me reason to be optimistic that it could be done and quickly. I will always be grateful to Jerry for the way he treated me when I entered the league. It meant a lot to me.
How much do you communicate about league affairs?
Kraft : “When I bought the Patriots, I paid the highest price for a sports franchise at the time. When Jerry bought the Cowboys five years earlier, he introduced an aggressive new way to market his team and maximize revenue in his market. He shook the norm and changed the way NFL owners do business. The Patriots were the bottom line in revenue when I bought the team. I was motivated to change that. And Jerry paved the way for new owners like me to follow. I have always loved talking with Jerry. He is passionate about his Cowboys and has a great vision to build a brand. I have served on several league committees with him over the past three decades, which has given each of us many opportunities to discuss league affairs and the future of the NFL. “
Jones : “We communicate a lot. We sit on committees together and through that we basically find ourselves working mentally and actively on league issues or league opportunities or league challenges. I might add to this that his son, Jon, and [Jones’ son] Stephen has a unique knowledge and has a unique relationship. While they don’t necessarily approach things the same, don’t approach their contributions and activities with the franchise in the same way, they still value the same – in my mind – stature with the team. It’s really productive and positive. “
Do you see yourself as allies?
Jones : “We are allies regarding the growth, the future and the challenges of the league. We are most often aligned. You are not aligned with all of the issues, but we are certainly aligned with most of the issues in both team visions being in our families for generations to come. Now, it’s not a natural partnership to compete the way we compete, and it is there. And all the nuances that go with it – jealousy, competitiveness, all the things you have when it’s your team and your city versus the other guy’s team and the other guy’s city. Now it’s very much alive with us. But to his credit, not mine, he has managed to work through the competitiveness and the natural disadvantages that you have; he managed to get over that and got me through it. “
Kraft : “The NFL is a fun business. Off the pitch, I consider him an ally. We are business partners competing against each other in one of the most competitive industries in the world and we each have passionate fans. So, yes, as a business partner he has been a great ally. He’s one of the greatest salespeople I’ve ever known and has done a lot of great things with the income he has generated and reinvested in the Cowboys facilities and their brand. He is passionate about his team and this is the kind of business partner you are looking for. Someone who is invested in creating a brand that we can all be proud to be associated with. ”
What do you like most about each other?
Kraft : “I love Jerry’s passion for the Cowboys and his general enthusiasm in everything he does. As I said before, he is quite simply one of the greatest sellers that God has put on this planet. There are times when I don’t even know what he is saying, yet he is so enthusiastic and speaks with such conviction that you end up believing everything he sells. He can be a real charmer and very persuasive in getting what he wants. These are characteristics that have worked very well for him and for the Cowboys his entire career. “
Jones : “Bob has unique communication skills. Very effective communication skills. He is down to earth. A guy told me that at Columbia he was voted the most likely to succeed. He is very talented in this regard. And he’s a very intense person. with an attractive exterior surface. This kind of combination is very effective.
What are the similarities in the way you operate?
Jones : “We love the game. At the end of the day, we love football. And him too. I think this is the genesis. Second, we are so passionate. We are very passionate and want to do everything we can for the Patriots, the Cowboys or the NFL. We understand it’s the NFL that makes the Cowboys, the Patriots, what they can be. Without the competition, without the other teams and the viability of the other teams, it couldn’t happen. And so he has an exceptional feel for it and makes decisions and tries to inform decisions accordingly. “
Kraft : “I am very fortunate to be able to involve my sons in my family businesses, including the Patriots. I can see them and spend time with them everyday. And they each did a great job. I know Jerry feels the same way about the opportunities the Cowboys have presented to him to involve Charlotte, Stephen and Jerry Jr. It’s a real blessing none of us take for granted. It’s just one more example of the things Jerry and I have in common. Each of these examples helps to strengthen our relationship. “
How do you feel about NFL business and where is it today?
Kraft : “The NFL is stronger than it has ever been and continues to have a very bright future. The recent collective agreement has provided us with the basis on which to negotiate long-term and record-breaking media deals with traditional broadcast rights as well as streaming opportunities which we know will increase our audience, both nationally and internationally. . It benefits everyone. Technology allows us to reach fans in new and creative ways that were never imagined before. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the NFL and to explore the league’s potential growth. “
Jones : “Since I’ve been in the NFL with where we’re at, you could argue that we’re in our best hour. And it has to do with how, frankly, we’ve dealt with COVID, and you can start right there because it’s a priority. I think the interest in our game, it shows in the people who watch us on TV and in digital and in all media out there today. When you look at the past years and look at the stadiums we have, starting with the most recent ones in Los Angeles and Las Vegas; when I look at where we are with the quality of the athletes, the game itself; I haven’t been here with a better time than what we currently have. ”