Rock Legends Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley Bring an Arena Football Team, LA Kiss, to Anaheim—and They're Already Winning

Rock Legends Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley Bring an Arena Football Team, LA Kiss, to Anaheim—and They're Already Winning
Photographer: Rickett & Sones | Photo Retouching: Gigantic Squid | Design: Dustin Ames

The first week of January is supposed to be slow on the Santa Ana College campus: no students, no classes, just maintenance workers, administrators and the stray professor. That meant it was the perfect time for the LA KISS, the newest franchise of the Arena Football League (AFL), to unveil its quixotic campaign toward pigskin relevancy—or at least a great payday for everyone involved.

"Once we commit to doing something, it becomes 'How do we make this succeed?'" Paul Stanley says. "We've always gone against the grain and played by our own rules."

Around 9 a.m. on a clear, chilly morning, hulking figures methodically make their way onto a soccer pitch transformed into a 200-foot-by-85-foot, arena-football-regulation field—about half the size of a standard gridiron. As players wearing team-issued orange shirts and black shorts head onto the field, multiple camera operators stand by the entrance, capturing their every move. They graciously smile and acknowledge the non-team personnel while stretching and preparing for morning practice.

What they don't know is that on this day, the men who sign their checks—and will draw more attention to them than the average AFL player can ever hope to experience—plan to address them.

Suddenly, the players' attention shifts to a gentleman sauntering onto the field. He has long, flowing black hair and is wearing a leather jacket and jeans. After exchanging handshakes with several execs, he looks at his watch.

"Where's Gene?" KISS founding guitarist/singer Paul Stanley asks his manager/co-owner Doc McGhee.

"Soon," McGhee responds.

"That's right—he drives like an old lady," Stanley adds before the two share a laugh.

Finally, Gene Simmons, the legendary KISS bassist/singer, arrives. He parks his black Lincoln Navigator at the adjacent lot and hustles—clad entirely in black—onto the field so that practice and filming can finally commence. There's chatter, but some of the players don't recognize the rock icon without his trademark Kabuki makeup and rock-god stage attire.

After Simmons is mic'd, he joins Stanley, McGhee, co-owner Brett Bouchy and team president Schuyler Hoversten as they casually stroll toward the team huddle, where head coach Bob McMillen is outlining his plans for practice. The morning's action is being captured as part of an upcoming reality show that will chronicle the team's first season; it's scheduled to air on AMC in July.

Since their emergence in the early 1970s, KISS have been known as much for their genius commercialization and branding as for their music and devoted fan base. Over the years, the 2014 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees have licensed the band's name to a wide range of products, including mini-golf courses, Hello Kitty dolls and even caskets for fans who want to represent the KISS army in the afterlife. But their latest venture might be the most ambitious of all: bringing a football franchise to Orange County, an area that produces some of the best high school talent in the country. It is a far different beast than opening up another Rock & Brews restaurant.

The stakes are high for Simmons and Stanley. If the LA KISS can succeed, both by winning on the field and providing an exciting entertainment experience, their pockets and that of the AFL will benefit. Having recently signed a national television contract, the league could become a fixture on the spring sports calendar and achieve the lofty goals that seemed far-fetched when it re-formed in 2010.

And if they fail?

"Once we commit to doing something, it becomes 'How do we make this succeed?'" Stanley says, unapologetically. "We've always gone against the grain and played by our own rules. If winning is the worst we've ever done, well, that's what we've always aspired to."

*     *     *

After the initial made-for-TV speeches the owners give to the squad, the players shake hands with their bosses.

"Winning comes from teamwork," Stanley tells the team off-camera. "Nobody wins on their own, and if we can instill a sense of band of brothers, which is what it took with KISS, with them, they will be successful."

When talking with Bouchy and McGhee, the players shake hands with stoic expressions. Meeting and greeting Simmons and Stanley is different. The players gravitate toward them wearing smiles; some of them shake like teenagers backstage at a mid-1970s KISS concert. They continue talking to their rock-icon bosses even after the cameras stop rolling, but then McMillen's loud whistle signals them that it's time to get to business.

The LA KISS split into offensive and defensive practices, while the owners, with camera crew in tow, head for a set of bleachers 30 feet away.

Early on, practice is crisp and fluid, appearing as if the team has taken Stanley's message to heart. McMillen claps loudly and barks at the players to keep up the strong showing. As a Hall of Fame AFL player, the coach knows how to get his message across to players, who respond to his upbeat personality. Grueling agility drills are completed multiple times without complaint. After each player finishes a set, the coach shouts encouraging words. Early in the practice, he's focused on the defense. On the other side of the field, passes are mostly on target, with few dropped balls.

At this point, Simmons and Stanley can be excused for checking out early, managing their empire from afar and leaving the dirty work to underlings. Instead, Simmons' eyes are locked on several massive defensive linemen seamlessly weaving around the small orange cones during footwork drills.

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13 comments
huntka33
huntka33

Kiss  proves that being ugly and wearing your Mothers clothes and make up have "nothing" to do with success.

huntka33
huntka33

Tebow will regret not taking You up on Your more than generous offer.

carmskiss
carmskiss

Gene & Paul forget about performing in Mexico on March 15th....stay safe in the USA and show up and support your team, LA KISS during their First ever Game!! See you in San Antonio!!

samanthadevenport
samanthadevenport

I love KISS and I love Gene Simmons. It has always amused me at how people's comments on various sites suddenly turn to abusive name calling and racism, whenever he says or does anything at all. 

Good on you, Gene - for making it big and continuing to make even more money to add to your already overflowing coffers. You know what it's like to be poor and had the balls to live your dream and make it a reality in a world full of judgmental tossers, who would only be doing the same in your shoes - if only they had the chance ...and guts.

dbo90275
dbo90275

Has anyone seen the pics of Gene without his wig?  He has a serious chrome dome. 

Fred Stoces
Fred Stoces

So they brought th "LA" kiss to Anaheim.. in Orange County? What is LA not big enough haha goddamn money grubbers, they stole the anaheim angels too!

serbialaw1
serbialaw1

I think it is a good fit. Say what you will about KISS's music, but they know how to market a product. Which is something Arena Ball sorely needs.

Lon Hall
Lon Hall

and I thought I was ugly!

crazyladyxoxo
crazyladyxoxo

I was wandering if the small town fan's are just as important to him as the big city fan


mannybanny
mannybanny

@huntka33  

maybe your Mom wore codpiece, spandex and chestless shirts - not mine...

;-)

Scott
Scott

You care because you read the article... and then commented.  If you didn't care one way or the other, you would have left it alone.  That's how it works.

jendall_714
jendall_714

@crazyladyxoxo Not sure if you know this but KISS once played in a High School auditorium because they heard about this Football Team who used to get fired up listening to KISS music before a game! This was in Cadillac Michigan.

 
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