By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
As they head toward the team's locker room, located in the college's P.E. center, Stanley and Simmons gush over the team's performance. Simmons continues spouting superlatives about the defensive linemen's agility, while Stanley is impressed with the zip and accuracy of quarterback J.J. Raterink's passes.
"Even when the games aren't on, [when] practice isn't happening, the amount [the players] need to do to keep up with their athleticism is back-breaking stuff," Simmons says as he shakes his head. He removes his sunglasses and wipes his forehead. "I'm out of wind just watching them, and we're"—he points at Stanley and himself—"in pretty good shape!"
Unlike other professional sports leagues, in which owners treat newcomers with caution and distrust, afraid that any new ownership will attempt to uproot a league's existing order, the AFL welcomed the LA KISS with open arms. "We've been embraced immediately," Simmons says, referring to the league's owners and front office. "We understand that part of it is about celebrity, and that's fine. But just being famous doesn't mean anything because some people are turned off to it. We're very lucky our reputation precedes itself and we handle everything professionally."
Stanley praises the team's fellow owners, saying they understand what the LA KISS brings to the sport and how the franchise is an asset to the league. So far, he has been right. Since the team began operations in August, the AFL's profile has increased. It has secured an additional national television contract with ESPN on top of its existing deal with CBS Sports Network, inked before the 2013 season. It's coming back from the ashes of 2008, a year that saw the season canceled, two teams fold (including the Los Angeles Avengers, which was averaging more than 12,000 people per game at Staples Center), two commissioners resign, its collective bargaining agreement with players expire, and almost $14 million in debt.
Simmons and Stanley are well aware of the AFL's checkered past. Saying the league has learned from its mistakes, Simmons vows it is focused on doing "only AFL things" and becoming an entity that's an alternative to the game that dominates America's fall calendar. The AFL's popularity is predicated on its video-game-type scores, with teams racking up numbers in the 40s, 50s and even 60s. "You can't get those scores in NFL football," Stanley laments. "And we want to give them more."
LA KISS games will come with all the spectacle of a KISS concert, Simmons says. Instead of the traditional running onto the field out of a tunnel, the team might be lowered onto the field from the ceiling using a device KISS had created for their live show but never used.
"We're looking to have a Cirque du Soleil type of halftime show, in which we're lowering people on cables from the roof, which is as nontraditional as any halftime experience in professional sports," Stanley says. "If you don't have people rappelling down from the ceiling during halftime, I'll do it."
Will Simmons and Stanley join in the theatrics? Simmons shakes his head quickly, giving the "No thanks" signal with his arms.
"Oh, c'mon, Gene," Stanley interjects. "You know if there's a spotlight on you, you'd definitely do it!"
"Well, that's different," Simmons says wryly as his tone of voice changes. "If there's a spotlight? Then absolutely."
Brennan says the players are aware of the owners' ambitions and will do what it takes on the field to ensure a winning atmosphere. "Man, thinking about what they're going to do to the Honda Center on game [nights] with musical acts, it sounds like a really fun thing," he gushes. "This will be an environment not only where we'd have a great time playing the game, but seeing live music after a game, who wouldn't want to go? It's going to be really fun."
This isn't the legendary band's first foray into sports entertainment. In the late 1990s, KISS sponsored a WCW wrestler based on Simmons' Demon stage persona. While the Demon ultimately wasn't a wrestling success, it piqued the interest of a younger audience who may not have heard of KISS outside of the stories their parents may have shared about rock music. "People who aren't familiar with football should be able to go to see the LA KISS and have the time of their life," Simmons says. "Even if they don't know the specifics of what the rules are, the experience should still kick your ass. We want it to be about the team, but also the spectacle of it."
"To put the KISS name and logo on something, we have to be very, very comfortable that it will reflect well upon us," Stanley adds. "We don't put our name on something and say good luck. Make no mistake: This is football and not rock & roll, and we want to bring something to the sport that it may be missing."
Season-ticket prices start as low as $99 each, which includes nine regular-season games, plus one playoff game. So far, according to Bouchy, the signs have been encouraging. "We've surpassed 5,000 season tickets, and the trends are only looking up," he says. "The biggest problem we've encountered is hiring enough ticket salespeople to keep up with the demand."