When Kelli McGonagill Finglass ('89) isn't leading dance rehearsals and business meetings, coordinating appearance calendars and travel, or reviewing rough cuts of a CMT reality TV show, she's sharing wisdom with the 30-plus women who make up the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
Each facet of the group, often lauded as "America's sweethearts," passes across Finglass' desk. She took the job of director and business manager — which includes helping to choose each year's members — in 1991 after five years of cheering on the squad. She knows the rigor of the process.
Each May, more than 600 women audition for a coveted spot on the team and Finglass says that having to tell 95 percent of them that this won't be the year their dream comes true is very difficult.
"My role is kind of like being room mom. But it's not always cheer, cheer, cheer," she says. "I'm also the one disappointing people and that is very heavy for me. I know how fragile young people can be."
A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Finglass has always worked hard. After her first year as a Cowboys cheerleader in 1984, she enrolled in UNT's College of Business to study marketing. Each day for four years, she drove to Denton from Valley Ranch for 8 a.m. classes, worked an afternoon job in Lewisville and then headed to the dance studio for a full evening of rehearsals.
"Because I've traveled worldwide on 18 USO tours, this little girl from Lindale saw a much bigger world than East Texas," Finglass says. "A tour to South Korea and chance to learn about manufacturing got me interested in international marketing."
She credits former marketing professor Krishna Erramilli and Gopala Ganesh, current University Distinguished Teaching Professor of marketing, for stimulating her brain and her interest in the field.
"They taught me how a product goes from an idea to the store shelf, and how you reach the consumer," she says.
After graduating in December 1989, Finglass was set to work in the international sales department at UPS, but the opportunity to be the assistant director of the cheerleaders arose.
"DCC is my heart and in my blood. Out of passion, I took the job," says Finglass, whose challenge once she was promoted to director was to make the squad profitable, rather than a public relations expense.
Using her marketing knowhow, she found ways to monetize skills the cheerleaders already possessed. She introduced for-profit dance and cheerleading camps and competitions, established a paid corporate appearance program and launched a swimsuit calendar followed by a TV special about its making.
One of the brand's biggest breaks came in 2005 when reality TV producers asked about chronicling the audition process.
"At that time, it seemed like every reality show was catfights and hot tub scenes, but I felt like the audition angle was something that might work," Finglass says of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team. The 12th season premieres Aug. 3.
"I want people to see how impressive the cheerleaders are in every dimension — how smart and talented they are, the strength of the team and the friendships. We have pre-med students, writers, lawyers," she says. "These are women with careers, not just gameday entertainers."