LA's gone without an NFL team for almost 20 years. Several pro football teams have tried to fill the gap, but they all went out of business. But on March 15, the LA KISS, an arena football team owned and operated by the rock band KISS, play their first game.
After so many teams have tried and failed to set roots in the LA market, Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson asks: Will this one succeed?
First, some clarifications. The LA KISS are not actually coming to LA. They’ll play home games in Anaheim, at the Honda Center, and yes, they're playing football. But it's arena football. Arena football is a 27-year-old sport played indoors on a smaller field. The action is quicker and the scoring is much, much higher:
Ask any player or fan and they'll admit it's a niche sport; the Arena Football League has much lower revenue and attendance than the NFL. But the LA KISS have something no NFL team has: KISS, the band. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons co-own the team.
Why KISS? Why arena football?
"Why not?" said Paul Stanley on NPR’s Only a Game last year. "AFL is something that's unique even within football. It's interesting that some people seem to think of it as the second stringers, but let's be very clear: a diamond is a diamond."
The LA KISS are actually the fourth arena football team to set up here. The first team, the LA Cobras, lasted just one season in 1988, and the LA Avengers played at Staples Center from 2000 to 2009. In the mid-90s, entrepreneurs unleashed the Anaheim Piranhas on Southern California football fans, playing in the same stadium the KISS will play in now.
Dave McKibben reported on the Piranhas for the LA Times. He said there wasn't a ton of publicity at the time.
"I think, really, they were just hoping that Orange County would be a great market because there was no NFL team. The Rams, if you remember, the Rams had just left a few years before," said McKibben. "I think they assumed the thirst for football in Orange County at the time."
Not just the Rams, but the Raiders also left Los Angeles in 1994. Two years later, the Piranhas started playing in Anaheim. Roy Englebrecht co-owned the team.
"We just thought there was a perfect time to bring football back in some fashion to Southern California and to Orange County," he said.
But things didn't work out as planned. McKibben says the Piranhas made the playoffs during their debut season and sold reasonably well, but attendance dropped sharply the second season. Costs and expenses climbed; the prospect of filling the arena grew daunting and the stress was too much.
"I don't think it surprised a lot of people that they folded after two years," said McKibben.
Stories like the Piranhas' aren't uncommon in the Arena Football League. In the sport's history 43 teams have gone defunct, lasting just under five seasons on average.
Lately, pro football teams in Los Angeles haven't had a great track record, either:
The Arena Football League's undergone several reorganizations, it even declared bankruptcy in 2010. Part of it's an image problem: High school quarterbacks don't work day in and day out so they can play for the Iowa Barnstormers or the Pittsburgh Power.
Also, it's a tough market. While there isn't any pro football here, there's plenty of sports to watch. But the KISS want to be more than that:
"We are truly trying to fuse sport, entertainment, music and theater all into one two and a half hour event," said LA KISS co-owner Brett Bouchy. Bouchy is an arena football veteran and previously owned the Orlando Predators, one of arena football's longest running teams.
Bouchy said the LA KISS is aware of stories like the Piranhas and where these teams went wrong. He knows LA's a big market, too. But he said in the years since the league's bankruptcy, arena football teams are now much more stable and sustainable than before. The league is more centralized and has a new collective bargaining agreement with the players' union.
Also, it's the LA KISS, and that's a name that's worth something.
"Our players are not going to be coming in from the tunnels. They're going to be coming in from the ceiling," he said. "Kiss has built a brand for the last 40 years and they're concerts are a spectacle. We're gonna bring that to arena football, but more importantly, sport. So you're gonna see elements. You're gonna see dancers—they're not gonna be performing on the field. They're gonna be performing in cages 75 feet in the air. "
The LA KISS have also signed partnerships to broadcast their games on ESPN, KCAL 9, and they'll even have a reality show on AMC — it launches this summer. Whether or not the team succeeds, it won't be for lack of trying.
The LA Kiss play their first game March 15 in San Antonio Texas, and make their Honda Center debut on April 5th.