Jerry Jones is known as the flamboyant owner of the Dallas Cowboys and one of the largest benefactors to the University of Arkansas, his alma mater. But he's also one of the richest people in America, with a net worth estimated at $4.2 billion.

The story of how Jerry Jones became a multibillionaire is filled with big ambitions and even bigger bets. 

Jerry Jones

Image: suzismini via Wikimedia Commons.

How Jones made his millions
Jerry Jones' initial wealth came in the oil business, where he was what's known as a "wildcatter." He drilled for oil in areas that weren't previously known to have oil in an effort to strike it rich. As the story goes, his first well struck black gold and Jones Oil and Land Lease was off to the races.  

Over the next two decades he would build an oil fortune before turning his attention to football in the late 1980s. The NFL's Dallas Cowboys, under the ownership of fellow oilman H.R. Bright, were coming off a string of bad seasons and Bright was eager to sell the team. In February 1989, Jones bought the Cowboys for $140 million and began making his mark on the NFL.

Shaking up the NFL
Jones' first big move as owner was to fire Tom Landry, a legend who had been the Cowboys' head coach since the team's inception in 1960. He hired his former University of Arkansas teammate Jimmy Johnson to coach the team and installed himself as general manager. The pair proved successful quickly, winning Super Bowls in 1993 and 1994. Another Super Bowl would follow after Johnson was fired in 1995.  

Cowboys Stadium

Image: Mahanga via Wikimedia Commons.

Off the field, Jones was beginning to shake up the NFL as well. He was unhappy with the NFL's arrangement to split team-branded merchandise sales 1/30 when his team accounted for a quarter of sales, so he signed a clothing deal with Nike (NYSE:NKE) and a soft drink deal with Pepsi (NYSE:PEP), which competed against league licensing partner Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO). The league sued, but Jones won, which has opened up a plethora of licensing deals for NFL teams.

He has also used massive revenue generators like personal seat licenses and a reported $17 million to $19 million annual stadium sponsorship deal with AT&T (NYSE:T). Add it up and the Cowboys had a reported $560 million in revenue last year, more than any other NFL team.  

Building a fortune on oil and football
The Dallas Cowboys alone are estimated to be worth $3.2 billion, according to Forbes, more than any other football team and ahead of Manchester United's $3 billion market cap, making it the most valuable sports franchise in the world.

While Jones has a few other assets, such as a half interest in 75 Papa John's (NASDAQ:PZZA) locations, his largest asset is definitely the Dallas Cowboys and the team's stadium. All told, his net worth has now reached $4.2 billion, according to Forbes, enough to make him the 130th richest person in the U.S. and 393rd in the world.

Not bad for someone who started with nothing and bet big that he would strike it rich wildcatting for oil in the 1960s.

Travis Hoium owns shares of Apple and AT&T.; The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, and PepsiCo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Nike, and PepsiCo and has the following options: long January 2016 $37 calls on Coca-Cola and short January 2016 $37 puts on Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.