By Eric Kelsey
ANAHEIM, California (Reuters) – Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of the rock band KISS put down their instruments, wiped away the face paint and unveiled their own arena football franchise on Monday, promising to pair the niche sport with the pyrotechnic theater of their concerts.
Seated outside the Honda Center arena in Anaheim, California, the two sixty-somethings stayed true to their trademark self assurance and bravado in their plan to turn an indoor version of American football played on a smaller field with a heavy emphasis on high scores into a top entertainment draw in Southern California.
“We don’t compete with anybody else. We set our own trail,” Stanley told media assembled outside the arena, which is home to hockey’s Anaheim Ducks and only a few miles down the road from Walt Disney Co’s Disneyland theme park.
They aim to go where others have failed in a place with no shortage of entertainment and recreation alternatives.
The LA Kiss will be the fourth attempt to establish a franchise in either Los Angeles or nearby Anaheim since the league began in 1987. The team begins their season on Saturday in San Antonio, Texas.
Games will have a carnival-like atmosphere with elephants, fire-breathers, stilt walkers, little people and go-go dancers.
“We are trailblazers, whether it’s in rock and roll or now football,” added Stanley, who along with Simmons purchased the franchise with two other investors last year. “There’s no rivalry because no one can rival us. We’re going to stake our claims and mark our territory.”
LA Kiss will give the 14-team Arena Football League another shot at making the sport stick in Southern California, the country’s second-largest sports market, which has not had an NFL franchise in 20 years.
Arena football depends on players whose professional prospects in the NFL, the country’s most popular sports league, never came to fruition.
Simmons, 64, and Stanley, 62, form half of KISS, one of the top-selling rock groups of the past 40 years best known for their white-and-black face paint, garish costumes, and songs like party anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite” and ballad “Beth.”
“ENTERTAINMENT” NOT SPORT
They are not the first rock and roll owners in arena football. Jon Bon Jovi of Bon Jovi is a former owner of the Philadelphia Soul franchise.
The league has made concerted efforts to court consumers in small and mid-markets such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Spokane, Washington, so far passing on renewing its past bets in competitive places like New York and Boston.
“There’s no reason that we won’t deliver exactly what we said we would,” Simmons said. “Anyone else who has failed in the past may have tried valiantly, but trying isn’t good enough.”
The last franchise in the region, Los Angeles Avengers, folded in 2008 after nine seasons when the financially struggling league canceled its 2009 season.
“It’s a fair way down the sports or economic food chain,” Allen Sanderson, an economist at the University of Chicago, said about the league. “I think one should probably look at it as more of a hobby than an investment.”
But franchise co-owner Brett Bouchy is steadfast that the LA Kiss should be viewed as an entertainment brand rather than a sports franchise like the NFL.
“We’re going the other way. … We are trying to differentiate ourselves from everything else out there in sports,” he said.
LA Kiss will be able to seat about 15,000 people at the Honda Center, and Bouchy said the team has already been able to sell more than 7,000 season ticket packages with a goal of reaching 10,000 before the team’s first home game on April 5.
But the franchise’s marketing plan has its own inherent risks as well, said Keith Willoughby, a business professor at the University of Saskatchewan, drawing a comparison with the failed XFL football league that attempted to fuse the sport together with the over-the-top sensibility of pro wrestling.
“The challenge the XFL ran into was that it wasn’t football enough for the football fan and it wasn’t entertainment enough for the wrestling fan,” he said. “You’re trying to straddle two different cultural markets, and the inability to do both is a recipe for disaster.”
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)