IRVING, Texas -- "America's Team" is no longer an easy sell.
While the Dallas Cowboys are headed toward their 91st consecutive home sellout Sunday against Arizona, they are struggling to persuade fans to buy tickets.
A local TV blackout of this week's game was avoided in part by offering a package deal that included a bobblehead doll of Emmitt Smith.
"They have to do whatever they have to do to sell tickets," Smith said. "At one point in time it probably wasn't like that, but now it is, so you have to adjust."
When they were winning three Super Bowls in the mid-1990s, rarely could an empty seat be found in the 65,639-seat Texas Stadium. The team even cut off season-ticket sales to ensure some single-game seats would be available. The club then sold all seats for all games before the season even began.
Early Friday, tickets still were available near the 50-yard line just rows from the field - for $68 each - to watch the Cowboys (1-4) play the Cardinals (2-3).
Joel Finglass, the Cowboys' director of ticket sales and promotions, said the team's record and faltering economy are the main issues, but "it's a combination of everything."
"It's almost like a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day job right now," he said.
Sunday's bobblehead dolls are part of a $35 package that includes a game ticket, hot dog and drink. Those tickets alone usually go for $37.
In the previous three home games, including a Monday night against rival Washington, the Cowboys weren't sure they had sold enough tickets to avoid the blackout until shortly before the NFL's 72-hour deadline.
Finglass expects the uncertainty to continue for the rest of the season despite ticket deals and promotions, such as a family plan of four tickets for $99.
"Just because the Cowboys are losing doesn't mean the fans go away," said George Hayes, the team's vice president for marketing. "It means we have to work harder, we have to be more imaginative. We look to continue to sell out, but it would be a lot easier if we were 10-1."
The Cowboys remain one of the top sellers of team merchandise, yet their overall drawing power has dimmed. Their lack of national TV appearances is one major indication.
"You don't have to win every year, but as the owner you do have to look like you're trying to win," said David Carter, president of the California-based Sports Business Group. "The one thing that no one can claim Jerry Jones does poorly is inject himself in the process. He might be meeting with mixed results, but clearly he's trying to put the team in position to win."
The last time Dallas didn't sell out a game was Dec. 16, 1990, against the Cardinals.
Yet just because seats are sold doesn't mean people are always sitting in them. Many of the best seats have been empty for games, indicating that the 40,000 season-ticket holders are staying away. Some luxury suites remain dark, too.
"I've been here when there were 35,000 people in the stands when we first got here," said coach Dave Campo, who has been in Dallas since 1989. "The economy today is different than it was five years ago, and you still have to win to get people in the stadiums. So we're not doing our part yet."
Beyond ticket specials and bobblehead dolls, the Cowboys have offered other bonuses: the enshrinement of former receiver Bob Hayes into their Ring of Honor at one game, the unveiling of a statue of former coach Tom Landry at another.
There are more Cowboys billboards around Dallas-Fort Worth since the summer. Ads in newspapers and on TV and radio are prominent.
"When the team's winning, obviously it makes everybody want to jump on the bandwagon," Smith said. "But when you are 1-4, it's kind of hard to come out there and cheer on a 1-4 team."
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