Tony Romo and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys may only be average on the football field so far this year. But off the field, especially in the merchandising arena, they remain America's team.
Last year, the Cowboys sold half a million of their young quarterback's No. 9 jersey, estimated Forbes magazine, making it the most popular sports jersey in the country.
This year, the Cowboys expect to sell more than $100 million worth of Romo jerseys and other Cowboys-branded gear, according to Bill Priakos, chief operating officer of Dallas Cowboy Merchandising.
"Nobody gives out their exact numbers, but we feel comfortable we are in the upper echelon" along with Manchester United and the Chicago Bulls, says Priakos, who joined the Cowboys organisation in 1996 to help start up its retail and merchandising division.
Whereas the rest of the NFL's 31 teams outsource everything to Reebok, in 2002 the Cowboys chose to take the higher risk/reward path of controlling all manufacturing, sales and distribution of their branded merchandise.
Managing this eight-figure business requires strong business intelligence and analytics, which the Cowboys pretty much lacked until two years ago, Priakos says.
At that time, the team made the decision to invest in four ostensibly integrated apps: ILS (Integrated Logistics Solutions) from Manhattan Associates for managing its manufacturing and distribution; Ignify for its e-commerce web site, Microsoft's RMS (Retail Management System) software to manage the cash registers at the 35 Dallas Cowboys retail stores, and crowning all of that, Microsoft's Dynamics AX 4.0 software for overall ERP managing of the finances and sales planning.
Priakos chose them over picking separate, best-of-breed products because Microsoft promised that by going this route, he not only would get integrated financial reports, but "one throat to choke" for technical support.
The problem was that no matter how hard he squeezed, Microsoft couldn't deliver on its promise of integrated reporting, he says.
"As we were going through the installation, they kept telling me, 'the BI piece is coming'. That turned out to be French for them not really knowing what they were going to do," Priakos claims. The unwanted siloing left Priakos feeling like he was "running four different companies".
The saviour turned out to be BI visualisation software maker Tableau Software. Earlier this year, in six weeks, the vendor built a dashboard for Priakos and his employees that combined data from all sources. "It has taken a somewhat disappointing software installation on which we had spent multiple millions of dollars, and just by layering this software piece, [Tableau] made it run better, and let us find answers instantly," Priakos says.
Answers to questions like, "How are internet sales of our jerseys doing?" that formerly took 30 minutes to find out, now can be gleaned instantly through Tableau, he says.
Or, "Where do our jerseys sell well outside of Texas?" Counterintuitively, those turned out to be cities that were home to the Cowboys' biggest traditional rivals – New York city (Giants), Washington (Redskins) and Philadelphia (Eagles).
Priakos can now come in every morning, scan the real-time data for about 15 minutes and then create a to-do list for the daily manager's meeting.
Priakos also credits Tableau with helping the team tighten its shipping.
"Now we ship 50 percent of our orders on the same day they were ordered," he says, while improving the overall on-time ship rate to the high 90 percent from the 70-something percent. Faster shipping leads to better sales at its retail partners.