In my years in the car business, I had many occasions to meet and be involved with sports teams, owners of sports teams, and players. For whatever reason, car dealers and sports teams just seem to go together.
Not long after I bought my Ford dealership, I had a visit from the head coach of SMU. He was an engaging man with a thick Georgia accent. He needed two cars for coaches, and offered me eight seats to all the games in exchange for the use of the cars. This was around 1997 and Coach Mike Cavan was taking over a program that had had little success. He was there for four years and had a winning record overall.
I went to many of the games, and Coach Cavan had some of his supporters over to his home after games for nice dinners and I enjoyed that immensely. He and his wife Becky would play the football games back, and it was fascinating to hear the coaches’ analysis of each play. Yes, I am a huge football fan. Once during a bye-week, Coach had some supporters over for dinner and I sat at a table with Carl Sewell, a legend in the car business and author of the book Customers For Life. Little did I know that years later his dealerships would be a huge part of my radio show, which wasn’t even thought of at the time.
From a business standpoint, the trade for cars and tickets made no sense at all. Would I do it again knowing what I know now? Absolutely.
Then there was Emmitt Smith, the star running back for the Dallas Cowboys. Emmitt and Troy Aikman were the two biggest names in Dallas-Fort Worth. Emmitt was at the dealership when I was the GM and I got to know him. I was able to go to the grand opening of a business he opened selling cellular phones.
Perhaps the most thrilling time I had with Emmitt was a star-studded party at Texas Stadium when Emmitt set the all-time rushing record that still stands today. Jerry Jones, the Owner and GM of the Dallas Cowboys had the party at the top of the stadium with the entire team, local celebrities, and the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Security was extremely tight, but it is an event I will never forget and am thankful to have been invited.
Then there is Mark Cuban, the Owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks and one of the Sharks on the hit TV show Shark Tank. I got to know Mark through my Chairmanship of the North Texas Ford Dealer group. I was Chairman of this group three different times, one of those years was at the same time I was Chairman of the Ford National Dealer Council. Yes, that was an extremely busy year. The North Texas Ford Dealers group oversaw the advertising and budget for 52 dealers combined. We controlled tens of millions of dollars.
In the early days of the Car Pro Show (then the Car Guy Show, only heard in DFW) we had Mark Cuban on the air with us. The Mavs were riding high at the time, but a looming problem was that the contract with Head Coach Don Nelson was up, and nobody knew if he would return the following season. At the time, Don was a fan favorite in DFW.
At the end of the interview, just as an afterthought, I asked Mark: “Any news on the Don Nelson contract?” Much to my surprise, Cuban said: “Yes, I’ll break the news here, Don Nelson has agreed to a new contract.” I was floored and so was Kevin, especially since he had been the in-house voice for the Mavericks. For the rest of the weekend, every report on local and national TV and radio reported what Cuban said and referenced “it all happened on the Car Guy Show on WBAP in DFW.” It was amazing.
I had another encounter with Mark Cuban, this one in my capacity as the Ford Dealer group head. There was a new development in Downtown Dallas where the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars (NHL hockey) were building a new place to play, called the American Airlines Center. They came to our Ford Dealer group to see if we wanted to be the exclusive automotive partner of the stadium. Ironically, we broadcast right next door today, every single weekend.
After agreeing to the deal as a group, I was honored to sign – at a ceremony – a 10-year contract with the new stadium worth 39 million dollars over 10-years. This was around 2002 and Ford is still a major sponsor today.
Another time with Cuban involved a friend named Dave Magee. Dave is an amazing illusionist and he was a regular on the Terry Dorsey Show on KSCS (see True Story #26). Dave was the voice of the Deacon Paul Brown, Pastor of the fictitious Mount Ryland Baptist Church. Dave came up with the idea of doing a “blind drive” to raise money for charity.
Dave spent hours practicing a route that covered over 3 miles, with a lot of curves and red lights. On the day the drive was going to happen, I put Dave and Mark Cuban into a brand new Thunderbird, top down, with Dave completely blindfolded. Mark could tell him to stop for a red light for safety sake, but nothing more. Not only did Dave make the drive back to the dealership, he pulled the new Thunderbird up on an elevated ramp. The whole thing was simply amazing. Dave is a regular headliner at Winstar World Hotel and Casino in Oklahoma.
I also got to be good friends with Troy Aikman in my career. I really don’t remember our first meeting, but around 2005, Troy decided to get into the Ford business and opened Troy Aikman Ford, ironically at the dealership I had managed many years earlier (see True Story #17, The Sign).
Before he opened, he came to see me at my dealership. He wanted to borrow a full-sized SUV to drive to California and back. His then-wife Rhonda was there and he was bringing them back to Dallas after retiring from the Dallas Cowboys, but before opening his dealership. I had him sign a few footballs for charity events, and he went on his way. Yes, he did return the Expedition in perfect shape.
Then there was Jerry Jones, the much loved or hated Owner of the Dallas Cowboys, depending on how you look at it. He was hated in Dallas for firing Tom Landry, but after two Super Bowl victories with Jimmy Johnson as Head Coach, he was a Dallas institution and accepted. I met him while I was on the Board of the Dallas Ford Dealer’s Advertising Board.
The first time I heard him speak, wanting us to approve being the official car company of the Dallas Cowboys, I was mesmerized. He is an amazing speaker and talked about how he begged and borrowed all he could to own the Cowboys. I am a sucker for the little guy becoming successful, and this was the Cinderella story of all time.
The Board agreed to the proposal and as I recall, it was a 3-year deal. We were all over Texas Stadium, in the programs of every game, and had vehicles running around the stadium during halftime. We had commercials running on the big Jumbotrons during games.
When we were coming up on the end of the 3-year agreement, I was the Chairman of the North Texas group. The Cowboys wanted a pretty large increase in the annual fee, and we took it under advisement. We still had a few months to decide, but it was a very large commitment. Our ad agency at the time tried to negotiate the price down but was getting no responses.
I finally said to the board “let’s do the deal” and we agreed. However, we soon found out that Jones had agreed to a much larger deal with the local Chevy dealer ad group. I was incensed, to say the least. Word got out about the Chevy deal, and I even went on a very popular radio sports program to discuss how we’d been shafted by Jones. The host, Randy Galloway, was as incensed as I was. Never mind our group lost the deal, but why didn’t we get the last right of refusal?
The Dallas Cowboys stayed with Chevy for three years, the length of the contract, but apparently, Chevy was not going to renew it. Oh, happy day, the mighty Dallas Cowboys – MY HOME TEAM – had to come begging back to the Ford dealer group, and I was once again the Chairman, either by fate or karma, who cares, right?
We played really hard to get and did not show much interest in being the Official Vehicles of the Dallas Cowboys. This time it was our group that didn’t respond to calls. We were the only game in town at the time. Toyota, Dodge, Nissan, Lexus, none of them had the money.
Finally, Jerry Jones invited us to his Highland Park home (which was just valued at 28 million dollars) for dinner. It was some of the board members, including myself, several from the ad agency, and a couple from the Ford regional office.
We walked into his trophy room, and I saw three Vince Lombardi trophies. Not replicas, the real things. Mr. Jones walked me upstairs to his library, then into a hidden bookcase, that was his safe room should anyone invade. Then we went to his cigar room, where at least 25 TVs surrounded the room.
The house was amazing. We met Gene Jones, his wife, who was gracious and beautiful but very quickly disappeared. Then we were seated for dinner. Niceties flowed and make absolutely no mistake, Jerry Jones is the ultimate salesman. Even though I was very angry with him, he was engaging, gracious and impossible to dislike. It did not go unnoticed that I was seated next to him.
Over after-dinner cocktails, we got into the meat of the meeting. Jerry himself laid out the details of the proposed plan. We listened intently and it was actually a better deal than we had the first time.
Finally, it was my job to pop the question. So I looked him straight in the eyes and said: “Mr. Jones, I have to ask the hard question. Why should we trust you? You totally shafted this group the last time we did business, I have no confidence you won’t do that again.”
Silence. For a moment you could have heard a pin drop.
Jerry Jones went into “sales mode” and it was incredibly believable. He apologized and went into the mistakes he had made, said he didn’t fully understand how valuable we were as partners. He almost had a tear in his eye.
I admit, he sold me. I was all-in, as everyone at the table was. Here we were, a group of people who made their fortunes in sales, and we had just been put together like a two-piece jigsaw puzzle.
We agreed to a deal that lasted much longer than I was a Ford dealer.
I got home late that night after being at the home of Jerry Jones. I was still pumped up when I arrived at my home. My wife was asleep but woke up when I came in.
She wanted to know how things went, and I tried to explain Jerry Jones’ home and how incredible it was. I told about the tour, seeing the trophies, and the whole experience.
Perhaps I was the most taken back by the Jones’ guest bathroom. It was not overly large, just off the dining room, but they had hand towels of linen with lace around the borders. These were for drying your hands for God’s sake. Of course, they were monogrammed-not with the Cowboy star as I expected- but with G & J Jones, in cursive. Not sure why that was so impactful to me, but it was. I probably talked about the towels as much as I talked about the house, the pool, security, the trophies, and on and on.
My wife was curious about my obsession with the towels, and I really had no answer. I think the towels are the ultimate “I am filthy rich” item.
I think my wife almost fainted when I reached into my inside coat pocket and pulled two of them out.
Photo Credit: FordTags: True Stories From a Former Car Dealer