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Volume 22 No. 3
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Closing Shot: Dallas Cowboys give back

For 22 consecutive Thanksgivings, the Cowboys have made the Salvation Army the focus of their community outreach, generating a total of more than $2 billion in contributions. Here’s what it took to get the bell ringing.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott drops $21 into a giant Salvation Army kettle after scoring a touchdown during the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game against the Redskins.
Photo: James D. Smith / Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys feel-good connection to the Salvation Army grew out of bad news.

 

In 1997, after the team had won three Super Bowls in four years, “one of our players made an unfortunate decision off the field, and overnight all the publicity and the interest and the attention was on something incredibly negative,” said Charlotte Jones Anderson, the team’s chief brand officer. (She declined to name the player, but there were several high-profile incidents in 1997 involving players including Erik Williams and Michael Irvin.)

 

Anderson noted that her father, team owner Jerry Jones, said at the time, “If people are going to be as interested in what we do off the field as they are what we do on the field then we need to find someone that we can align with that is truly making a difference in our community.”

 

The CEO of a team sponsor, Frito-Lay, directed Anderson to the Salvation Army. She then came up with the idea of starting a halftime show to generate awareness for the Salvation Army, but she needed a few things first: an act, buy-in from broadcaster NBC, and the NFL to extend halftime.

If people are going to be as interested in what we do off the field as they are what we do on the field then we need to find someone that we can align with that is truly making a difference in our community.
Charlotte Jones Anderson
Cowboys Chief Brand Officer

The first act was country music singer Reba McEntire, who said yes immediately because the Salvation Army had helped her grandfather many years earlier.

 

Next up was NBC. Jerry Jones took his daughter to meet Dick Ebersol, then the head of NBC Sports. Recalling the meeting, Anderson said of Ebersol, “He looked at me and said, ‘No one has ever come into my office and asked me for airtime for free before.’” But Ebersol said that if the NFL would extend halftime, and the show met network standards, he would air it.

 

Leaving Ebersol’s office, Jerry Jones looked at his daughter and asked, “Do you know what you have done?”

 

“I am like, ‘I got a halftime show on TV,’” Anderson recounted. “And he’s like, ‘No, you just got over $15 million of exposure for the Salvation Army.’”

 

The NFL agreed to extend the halftime from 12 to 19 minutes and the most famous halftime this side of the Super Bowl was born.

 

The partnership has provided plenty of highlights. Two Thanksgivings ago, running back Ezekiel Elliott jumped into the large red kettle in the back of the end zone after scoring a touchdown. Elliott told Anderson that he did the stunt to generate more contributions. And that it did, by $450,000 over the three days following the game. Much of that came in the form of $21 checks, a nod to Elliott’s jersey number.

 

This year, the Cowboys and Elliott each pledged to match all $21 donations. Elliott did his part during the game, tossing $21 into the giant kettle following a touchdown.