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The L.A. KISS will need more than makeup

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During their 40-year career with KISS, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have been known for their loud music, larger-than-life performances and shows with Fourth of July-like fireworks. Now they want to translate that experience to the self-indulgently named L.A. KISS of the Arena Football League.

In addition to Simmons and Stanley, the ownership group includes Brett Bouchy, who previously owned the Orlando Predators of the AFL, a team that was once fined by the league for a blow-up doll promotion. Bouchy says they're not just building a sports brand but an entertainment brand, much like pro wrestling, where the competition is only part of the show.

But sports entertainment has been tried before in this market with no lasting success.

The L.A. Avengers decided not to return to arena football after the league shut down for a year in 2009. The L.A. Xtreme of the XFL played one year in Los Angeles in 2001 before its league was disbanded.

The Avengers reached the playoffs five times in nine years and the Xtreme averaged 20,000 fans at the Coliseum on its way to winning the only XFL title.

"The one thing that I don't want to do is be pigeonholed into being compared to another arena football team or ... any other sports team that's played in this market," Bouchy said. "We are trying to differentiate ourselves from everything in their sports. Our idea is to be a global entertainment brand and be a lifestyle brand."

George Belch, a marketing professor at San Diego State, sees both the promise and pitfalls of this venture.

"There's a lot going on and you're right on top of the action," he said. "People love to see people get lit up and knocked into the seats. But you've got to find the right balance."

Belch says football must come first and the constant flow of loud music and sideshows could be more of a distraction. To succeed, he said, the team will have to figure out how to entertain its fans without overloading them.

"The key issue for me is long-term sustainability," Belch said. "It can't just be 'I'll go periodically and get entertained like you do to a concert.' You need to bring back fans, have mini plans and season-ticket holders that will move the turnstiles."

Relying too heavily on gimmicks, as the XFL did, could turn fans off.

"The old XFL was trying to use a different set of rules, but at the same time they were doing some things with this smash-mouth, in your face, almost playing up the sexiness of the cheerleaders as well and that didn't really go over as well," Belch said.

On the eve of its season opener Saturday in San Antonio the KISS has sold around 7,000 season tickets and its owners say it will reach 9,500 by the home opener April 5.

Bouchy says after single-game sales the team expects to sell out the 15,000-seat Honda Center for every game.

J.K. McKay, who was the general manager of the Xtreme and is now a senior associate athletic director at USC, said the team should avoid comparisons to the NFL, even as Simmons was doing just that.

At a kickoff media event, Simmons said the NFL would be "a snore" compared with the football his team would play.

"If you've seen an NFL or college football game, it's pretty tough," McKay said. "I don't know if you're going to get any tougher."

McKay also points to football as being the key.

"All the other stuff is important, but if you want to succeed in your league, I don't care what bands are playing at halftime, if you're 5-10 you don't sell," McKay said.

Instead, he said, the team should play to its strength, a smaller indoor field leading to fast-paced action and high-scoring offenses.

"It's a unique sport, a bit different than football, but it has a lot in common," and could fill the great appetite for football in Los Angeles, McKay said.

Focusing on the team's entertainment value could play well in a market that is accustomed to Hollywood stars and their lifestyles.

"The popularity of the band KISS can be very effective," said Joann Klonowski, who was the chief marketing officer for the Xtreme. "They are incredibly entertaining, they're flashy, they're fun. They know how to entertain the crowd."

The team's owners are confident they can be winners. They've already brought on last year's league coach of the year, Bob McMillen, who has not had a losing record in four years of coaching, and they even offered former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow a contract.

"We're not looking at where we're going to be in 2014 or 2015," Bouchy said. "We're trying to look 10, 15, 20 years down the road because we're going to be here a long time."

james.barragan@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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