Kiss front man Gene Simmons promises to recreate the same raucous experience that’s defined his rock band’s concerts for more than four decades in his latest business venture: arena football.
The entertainment tycoon who’s licensed everything from Hello Kitty dolls to comic books will test his marketing chops in an industry plagued with challenges and in a market that’s hummed along just fine without professional football for the last 20 years.
Simmons is quick to downplay those concerns.
“There’s only one business on Earth, and that’s show business,” he said. “Unless you make something fun and interesting to people, they don’t care. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”
Fans who attend L.A. Kiss’ April home opener at the Honda Center in Anaheim can expect to see a show before, during and after the game. And that doesn’t even account for the fast-paced action on the turf, where players frequently get knocked into the stands and missed field goals are rebounded off netting behind the skinny goal posts and played live.
The league’s cadre of scrappy players—some of whom didn’t make the grade in the NFL or were hit with injuries that derailed their careers—earn far less than those on the big circuit. It’s not uncommon for players to make under $500 a game on the low end and up to six figures on the high end.
The average NFL salary is nearly $2 million by comparison.
Arena football, invented in 1981, is played on a smaller field than the traditional American game, typically in hockey and basketball stadiums, and features a high-scoring style.
“There’s going to [be] more attention from celebrities because we’re going to invite the people that attract media and TV crews,” said Simmons from his favorite room inside his Hollywood Hills mansion— a brand cave with hundreds of items of Kiss memorabilia, including toys, clothing and those vintage masks.
In-game promotions will include Kissettes cheerleaders, a logoed Kiss camera that will highlight affectionate couples, and a football cannon that will blast about 30 mini footballs into the stands per game with specialized messages and signatures.
Simmons likened the promotion to a box of Cracker Jack he often bought as a kid growing up in New York City.
“What was the appeal of [Cracker] Jacks?” he said. “You never knew what the surprise was.”
The L.A. Kiss, who join the Portland Thunder as expansion teams for the 2014 season, begin their inaugural season with plans for a concert by Simmons and his bandmates at the Honda Center—not to mention high hopes on the field and a solid financial footing.
The franchise is backed with star power and a merchandising empire from one of the most lucrative bands in the history of music. Kiss has sold more than 100 million albums in 40-plus years of work, playing sold-out venues from Russia to Rhode Island along the way.
The football franchise’s ownership team also includes Kiss singer/songwriter Paul Stanley, the band’s longtime manager Doc McGee, and veteran arena football executive Brett Bouchy.
It is already leveraging its Hollywood connections and its status as Arena Football League’s largest market. The Chicago Rush occupied the league’s biggest market until it shut down amid investor troubles, lawsuits and charges of poor management.
The L.A. Kiss will be featured in an upcoming reality show on A&E, which aired the bass guitarist’s reality show “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” until its cancellation in 2012. “That’s how we’re different from anybody else,” Simmons said. “Paul and I will walk through there every once in a while. Otherwise it’s really about them, about our guys; and we intend on making them stars.”
The Arena Football League, which was forced to shut down in 2009 without a major broadcasting deal, has some momentum going into its March 14 opener.
Last month it signed a multiyear deal with ESPN at an undisclosed price to broadcast at least 10 regular season games on its family of networks. ESPN also has rights to one of two conference championship games and the ArenaBowl, the league’s top prize.
Another 75 games will be shown as live streams on the Internet, ESPN’s video player and the AFL website.
“Adding ESPN’s national contract is a watershed moment for us,” said team president Schuyler Hoversten, who’s run business development for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Crush arena football team.
The team also is said to be close to finalizing a broadcast deal with CBS Sports and the local Fox affiliate.
L.A. Kiss management opted for the Honda Center after meetings with Tim Ryan, chief executive of the stadium, and Anaheim officials who shared the same vision of turning arena football in a fickle market into a sustainable business.
That was enough for a deal in the heart of OC despite those other initials in the team’s name. “The reality of the story is I never made the second call to the Staples Center,” Hoversten said. The team has a five-year lease at the stadium, with another five-year option.
It will launch a marketing blitz this month, heavy in billboard placements around Southern California, and print and radio ads that will tout a message of “great football fused with an unparalleled entertainment experience,” according to Bouchy, the former owner of the arena league’s Orlando Predators.
The L.A. Kiss will use the slogan “the greatest show on turf,” which was popularized by the St. Louis Rams’ high-powered offense from 1999 to 2001 under one-time arena football quarterback Kurt Warner.
L.A. Kiss is Anaheim’s second arena football team—a franchise called the Piranhas played there for several seasons in the 1990s. The new franchise is off to a fast start. It has already sold more than 5,000 season tickets, which cost $99 and include a ticket to a separate Kiss concert.
The goal is to hit 10,000 before the opening kick-off.
The L.A. Kiss have enlisted a strong group of initial sponsors, including Dollar Loan Center, the Titled Kilt sports bars, and office supply retailer Staples, which is outfitting its entire operation, from office supplies and vending machines to IT infrastructure.
The ownership team also is pouring in investment dollars to field a strong team on the field and to hype up the game experience for fans, which doesn’t even include the “seven-figure” expansion fee paid to the league and its owners.
“We want to appeal to fans who don’t care about football, as well as the football fan,” Simmons said. “You don’t have to mortgage your home to get a ticket. Once you see a game, [you’re] never going to forget it.