"Team America" Dallas continues expansion drive

By Gerard Wright

OXNARD, CALIFORNIA (Reuters) - A few hectares of dirt on a vacant block near the 101 freeway have been transformed by American sporting mega-brand the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys are in the Californian town of Oxnard for pre-season training, bringing celebrity to a place where the glamour of the NFL is normally only seen on TV.

Posing for photo ops in between running through their complex play-book, the Cowboys are eager to build on their huge commercial success by further broadening their fan base.

Linebacker Victor Burns works the fenceline, wrapping his chunky arms around anyone who wants a photo with him as Cowboys fever hits the town of 180,000 just north of Los Angeles.

Such attention to marketing has helped make Dallas the most financially successful NFL franchise according to Forbes magazine, with annual revenue of $280 million and an estimated worth of $1.65 billion.

Cowboys defensive coach Dave Campo recalled how during the 1970s and 1980s the team would show up at coaching conventions and put on lavish spreads for assembled coaches as a way of developing a national recruiting pipeline.

"No one else was doing that," Campo, who was coaching college football teams during those years of Cowboys expansion, told Reuters.

TEAM AMERICA

The Cowboys were winning games, as well, then Conference championships, then Super Bowls -- two in the 1970s, three in the 90s.

"When you're successful all the kids like you," added Campo while preparing the team for their September 12 season opener with the Washington Redskins.

"Then the kids grow up and there's Dallas Cowboy fans all over the world because of that."

Dallas's hi-tech new stadium, opened 11 months ago at a cost $1.2 billion underlines the opulence of a club which calls itself "America's Team."

Here in Oxnard, Cowboys fans can buy a square foot of artificial turf from the storied team's former Texas Stadium for just $20 at a makeshift stall selling team merchandise.

A plastic seat from the same venue signed by Super Bowl-winning quarterback and favorite son Roger Staubach fetches $200, or $425 framed, with a piece of the same stadium turf.

With fanatical fans across the United States, the Cowboys players said they feel at home even when they are away.

"To be America's Team and to be renowned and noticed everywhere you go, in any city, it's a pretty special thing," said offensive lineman Andre Gurode.

(Editing by Alastair Himmer)