The cheerleaders definitely would have had their part to play.
The cheerleaders definitely would have had their part to play.

Huge mistake that cost Trump billions

The popular explanation of the butterfly effect is that a simple movement like the flap of a butterfly's wings can have huge implications elsewhere.

It makes you wonder how different history could have been had Donald Trump bought the Dallas Cowboys ahead of Arkansas-based oil and gas entrepreneur Jerry Jones.

To celebrate Jones' 30th anniversary as the Cowboys' owner - a milestone reached last week - Forbes took a look at Jones' time at the helm of the NFL franchise he purchased in February 1989 for $AUD197 million.

While it's not a tiny sum of money by any means, it's nothing compared to what a prospective buyer would have to fork out now. According to a Forbes 2018 rich list, the Cowboys are the most valuable sports team in the world, worth more than $6.8 billion.

That's almost $1 billion more than the second most valuable team Manchester United and streets ahead of the next NFL team on the list, the New England Patriots, who were valued at $5.2 billion.

But it could have been so different for Jones. In 1984, five years before he got out his cheque book, Donald Trump decided to pass on the team when the price tag was just $70 million. Instead, he bought into the second year of the United States Football League (USFL), purchasing the New Jersey Generals for a reported $14 million.

At the time Trump felt the USFL was more of a challenge and bet on being able to earn more money with the upstart league, rather than buying into the existing NFL.

"I feel sorry for the poor guy who is going to buy the Dallas Cowboys," Trump said at the time. "It's a no-win situation for him, because if he wins, well, so what, they've won through the years, and if he loses, which seems likely because they're having troubles, he'll be known to the world as a loser.

"I could have bought an NFL club for $40 million or $50 million, but it's established and you would just see it move laterally. Not enough to create there."


To be fair to the US President, the Cowboys were sold to businessman Harvey Roberts "Bum" Bright for $120 million in 1984, but by 1989, the franchise was losing $1 million per month according to ESPN.

But perhaps sensing he'd missed an opportunity, throughout his USFL tenure Trump appeared eager to get into the NFL. Trump also reportedly described USFL ownership as "a way of getting, as one alternative, into the NFL inexpensively".

The now 72-year-old missed out on at least two other NFL franchises he showed interest in buying, passing on the New England Patriots in 1988 as he didn't want to take on the debt of the previous owners.

American sports business reporter Darren Rovell tweeted the Patriots are worth $US3.8 billion today - that's $5.4 billion in Australian dollars - making them the second most valuable team in pro football.

Trump also lost a bidding war for the Buffalo Bills in 2014 after allegedly offering up $1.27 billion. The team was eventually sold to Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula for nearly $2 billion.

Of course Trump's bid for the Bills has now been brought back into the spotlight thanks to his former lawyer Michael Cohen and his testimony to congress.

"I'm giving the Committee today three years of President Trump's financial statements, from 2011-2013, which he gave to Deutsche Bank to inquire about a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills and to Forbes," Cohen said.

"It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes."

In early 2016 after the Bills deal had gone down, Trump told an Associated Press reporter if he had won the bidding war he wouldn't have run for president.

"I did it a little tentatively," Trump told AP of his attempt to purchase the Bills. "When I put the bid in for the Buffalo Bills, I always was a little concerned if the NFL would remember how I knocked the hell out of them.

"This is more exciting. And it's a lot cheaper.''


Trump has been chasing the NFL dream for years, which makes the Cowboys non-deal a baffling concept to swallow.

The businessman turned politician took his money and willingness to get in front of a camera to the USFL, purchasing the Generals in the league's second season.

The USFL was a breakaway league that played in the spring during the NFL off-season. But with Trump entering the league, this wasn't going to last for long.

Jeff Pearlman, author of the USFL book The Useless, revealed how Trump put his cards on the table in his first owners meeting with the USFL.

"I didn't enter this league to stay in the spring," Trump said. "We're moving to fall (autumn)."

A change in seasons would have put the USFL in direct competition with the NFL - and drew the ire of one owner in particular.

John Bassett owned the Tampa Bay Bandits and having had experience with owning sports teams, knew it would be the wrong choice to move in on the NFL's territory. His patience with Trump eventually wore thin, leading to this scathing letter.

Trump ruffled plenty of feathers in the USFL. He signed former NFL players and spent big, forcing most other teams to drag out their chequebooks if they wanted to compete.

It also gave Trump plenty of media attention and helped his rise to fame. Ultimately this was with the aim of seeing the USFL merge with the NFL - but that prospect culminated in a huge court case.

The USFL sued the NFL for antitrust and holding a monopoly over football, asking for well over $1 billion, which would triple if the USFL won.

The USFL did ultimately win as the jury found the NFL to be holding a monopoly that hurt the USFL, but awarded damages of just $1, tripled up to $3.

"I thought he (Trump) was extremely arrogant, and I thought that he was obviously trying to play the game," juror Patricia Sibilia said in an interview. "He wanted an NFL franchise. The USFL was a cheap way in."

That was the final breath for the upstart league.

Trump lost an estimated $30 million on the Generals but it didn't dampen his desperation to chase an NFL franchise.

Since becoming president, Trump has regularly commented on the league, including slamming players who kneel during the national anthem.


Jones changed everything for the Cowboys. From bleeding money to bathing in riches, the 76-year-old has followed a strict philosophy since he took control of the franchise.

"I intend to have a complete understanding of contracts, jocks, socks, and TV contracts," he said in his first press conference after buying the team. "There's no way I can look in the mirror if I don't understand anything about this business."

The long-time owner and general manager of the Cowboys has overseen three Super Bowl victories and has been a driving force behind the organisation's incredible growth.

Jones is the third owner of the franchise, which was launched in 1960 by Clint Murchison Jr., who held it until the sale to Bright in 1984.

Jones has taken advantage of big money TV deals and been fortunate enough to attract quality players - including 1989 No. 1 draft pick and hall of fame quarterback Troy Aikman - as well as NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith, who the Cowboys drafted the following year.

Jones also has his name unofficially on the team's $1.6 billion AT&T Stadium, which is known colloquially as "JerryWorld".

The business mogul has always been his own man, determined to follow his instincts and it's a good thing he did because Trump wasn't the only one who thought buying the Cowboys wasn't such a good idea.

After trying to buy a franchise for some time after he and his partner sold their gas and oil company for a reported $245 million, Jones' accountant Jack Dixon advised against chasing the deal.

"Jerry called me in October, said he was thinking of buying the Cowboys and let's take a look at the books. So we contacted Solomon Brothers, who was handling the sale, and we went down to Dallas for a week," Dixon said in an article on the Dallas Cowboys website. "The asking price at the time was $200 million.

"After a month of researching it all, I told Jerry point-blank this was ridiculously overpriced and buying the Cowboys would be financial suicide. He could have gone dead-dog broke on this."

But after a horror 3-13 season, the price dropped to $US140 million ($AUD197 million) and Jones went all in, spending almost every dollar he had and borrowing the rest.

The investment paid off and Jones was proved to be a genius. It was a move that's continued paying off ever since.

The NFL season is live on Kayo Sports. If you can't wait for next season, there are also several great shows and documentaries, including ESPN 30 for 30, which has an episode looking back at the USFL. Stream now from just $25 per month for two devices at once on Apple and Telstra TV, for Apple and Google Android smartphones, on web browsers and via Google Chromecast Ultra devices. Click here for your free trial.

Although the team hasn't won a Super Bowl since 1996, Jones maintains owning the Cowboys is a dream job.

"I really can say this genuinely," Jones said. "I haven't worked a day in 30 years. My lesson here is that if you can get in something that piques your imagination every day, you will grow with it. And consequently, I am not the same person that I was 30 years ago - I'm more enthusiastic."

‘Utterly outrageous’: Senator joins ‘Gympie Pyramid’ fight

Premium Content ‘Utterly outrageous’: Senator joins ‘Gympie Pyramid’ fight

Greens Senator Larissa Waters visited the ‘Gympie Pyramid’, proposing an “easy fix”...

A $1.89m ‘living’ lab set to help fireproof Noosa

Premium Content A $1.89m ‘living’ lab set to help fireproof Noosa

A hi-tech laboratory will be built in stages throughout the Noosa region...

VC hero fronts Qld colleagues after expletive-riddled spray

Premium Content VC hero fronts Qld colleagues after expletive-riddled spray

Ben Roberts-Smith fronts colleagues after ‘smiling assassins’ leak