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Why LA KISS are kings of the AFL

This is an extended story from ESPN The Magazine's Feb. 2 Music Issue. Subscribe today!

ORDERING EYEBLACK BY the barrel isn't part of the game plan for most professional football clubs, but all that changed the day a team agreed to call Los Angeles home. In August 2013, KISS frontman Gene Simmons and bandmate Paul Stanley brought the game back to the City of Angels when they cofounded the Arena Football League's LA KISS. Not since the inception of the forward pass has the game undergone such an extreme makeover. Well, the fan experience part anyway. Despite a 3-15 record in their inaugural season, they have become the AFL's marquee franchise. Here's Simmons on the secret sauce behind the success:

Why KISS entered the world of football ...
Well, opportunity knocks probably only once and you don't get another chance. You don't have to be a genius to look around in perhaps the second-largest market in America, Los Angeles, and see it doesn't have a professional football team of any kind. Arena football is cool. For one thing, you don't have to mortgage your home to buy tickets -- $99 for season tickets, what's wrong with that? It's air-conditioned, no matter rain or shine or anything else. It's comfortable. You don't have to travel a mile for the food. If you want to pee, it's right outside the door. It's all good. It's also much faster, much more in your face. It's actually more aggressive. What we do is to make sure you don't have a chance to dip your chips every time the ball goes down on the floor and people are huddling.

The goal of every LA KISS game ...
To make it the Super Bowl every game. That's exactly the idea because you have to be honest with yourself. Although there are a lot of football fans, there aren't 100 million football fans, come on. Just like when you go to the Kentucky Derby, everybody that goes there doesn't necessarily know anything about horse racing. They go there for the spectacle. It's a must-see event. And if you take away the spectacle that is the Super Bowl, the music and the fireworks, if you take away all that, what do you got? How could you have cheerleaders without music? And when the guys run out to the field, isn't that music that heralds their arrival? Don't teams -- if they are lucky -- have their own anthem? Words to those anthems mean something: This is who we are, this is what we stand for. So that's what we try to do, and we've been very successful because in one season, our very first one, we were the only team in the AFL to pull at least 10,000 people to every home game. That's unheard of. What other AFL team had a reality show on the air? You've got to try to break new ground and not do what grandpa used to do. Welcome to the 21st century. Any fireworks that you see at a KISS show should be at our LA KISS events -- it shouldn't be just a football game; it should be an event!

What to expect at an LA KISS game ...
We have full live rock bands -- nobody playing tapes. When the band sings it's real, it's live. We have extreme sports people doing full 360-degree flips on motorbikes. We have our Junior KISS Girls who are 10 to 12 years old -- cute as a button -- and they all do their dance routines to music. We have laser light shows. Our dancers are A-level athletes. Some of them are hanging in iron cages 50 feet above the ground above the goalposts. The opening day we had our guys levitating down from the ceiling, 80 feet up in the air. Basically, if you mixed up KISS and football you'd get LA KISS, which is profoundly and accurately why it's called LA KISS.

On Jon Bon Jovi's and Motley Crue's involvement with the AFL's Philadelphia Soul and Las Vegas Outlaws, respectively ...
Never heard of them. I know that one of the guys was involved in Arena football. I don't know if the other guy respectfully is going to be involved, but I keep hearing the same things you do. But look, when you're running a race you can never look over your shoulder to see who is behind you. You just run your race, look forward and be the best that you can be and good luck to anybody who wants to get into the game. But we've never lost in ventures. We're serious about it. One of the first things that I tried to do was bring concerts and music and glamour and glitz to KISS ventures. I mean what's Caesar coming back after a successful war without trumpets heralding his arrival? What is anything without music? What's church without music? What is sports without music? Think about it: When these guys train, you think there is nothing going into their ears? I mean music is really the soundtrack of your life. Anything from Mantovani all the way to Chopin. But if you're doing anything having to do with adrenaline, you're probably listening to KISS.

Simmons on the state of the NFL ...
Football has gotten bigger, and if football doesn't watch what it's doing, something else is going to come along, something more exciting. Maybe it's Arena football, maybe it's extreme fighting, whatever it is. Look, people have the attention span of gnats. Yes, there are team rivalries based on "my city is cooler than your city." I get it, it's always been about that, but you don't have to do that just in football. It can be in anything. Listen, the NFL invited me to sing the national anthem in a few stadiums, including the game at Wembley Stadium in front of 80,000 people, and I was proud to do it, so the NFL does a great job. But hockey is exciting, so is basketball, so is lots of stuff. Everything can coexist, but if the only thing you're doing is what you're doing, you've got to give more and music is a good "more." I don't mean just something for your ears, I mean the visual experience of music. And this is nothing new.

Simmons on the state of MLB ...
There is still a grandmother playing an organ of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." I mean, really. You got to be careful, baseball used to be America's pastime, but really it's not anymore. A few years ago a consortium, including myself, tried to buy the Dodgers. And it is stuck in the muck and the mire. It's stuck in the past: the outfits, the games. The first thing I wanted to do was to bring in baseball cheerleaders and have a theme song, like all this branding stuff. You should have heard the uproar, "Well that's not how we do things!" Really? Says who? Who is the rule maker? Baseball is an exciting game, but while the pitcher is lining up and looking around to think about which ball to throw, everybody is just dipping their chips and talking to each other. I would speed it up. I would install a time limit. You've got to throw that ball whether you're ready or not in 10 seconds or less. If not, it's an automatic ball.

What to expect next season from LA KISS ...
We are certainly going to scale back on special occasions. The ceiling levitation thing cost a fortune -- 250 grand just to do the opening spectacle because there were so many fireworks. We can have people rappelling 100 feet up from the rooftop. We play at the Honda Center and some of the other arenas we play at have very high roofs, so anything is possible. Why can't you do that with music, and people coming down in parachutes or jet packs? Give them a show!

On the response he's received from the football community ...
Not a clue. I never looked around, I never asked anybody how they feel about it. It's beside the point. I'm sure there are lots of people that wish us well, and some people who don't. I mean what's Christmas without Scrooge? But you can't let the Scrooges of the world stop you from having a good old time and enjoying Christmas. As far as I'm concerned, every day is Christmas -- of course we call it KISSmas -- and I'm the guy that brings the presents. I'm coming down your chimney whether you want me to or not.

On attempting to sign Tim Tebow to the team ...
I was very vocal about it [circa September 2013]. We didn't even talk about it as a team. I was just talking about it, not as a press angle or anything, but as a matter of ethics. If any one of our guys gets caught in a bar fight or impregnates a girl without being responsible, they are out. I don't care how well you play. And remember when people, and the media, started making fun of him because he's a religious Christian? So he gets down on one knee and crosses himself. What's the problem with that? He's a good family guy, doesn't use drugs as far as we know, doesn't kill or torture dogs and is not facing a murder charge. As far as I'm concerned, football could use more Tim Tebows. Clean it up! There are kids watching.