Los Angeles Kiss bring rock star aura into matchup against Power

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With two of the entertainment industry's most ubiquitous icons as owners, the Los Angeles Kiss' introduction to the Arena Football League went the only way it could have.

The national anthem was played on electric guitar. The team's dancers were suspended in midair throughout the game. Players in fire-adorned uniforms descended down to the field on a metal platform as fireworks and flames shot off in the background.

Even in a league that can sometimes be equal parts football and professional wrestling, it was a bold announcement that there would be something different about this team. After nearly two months of games, that much has remained evident.

With two of its owners-- Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of the band Kiss -- serving as the public face of the franchise, the Kiss have excelled from a marketing standpoint, leading the league in attendance while giving the AFL the kind of exposure it has not received since suspending operations in 2009.

That show is in Pittsburgh tonight as the Kiss face the Power, the most recent stop for a franchise that is looking to redefine how the game is viewed.

Scouting report
Matchup: Power (5-3) vs. Los Angeles Kiss (2-6), 6 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

TV, Internet: CBS Sports Network, ArenaFootball.com.

Power: Won 52-41 last Friday at Spokane, the second win in a row after a two-game losing streak. ... WR Aaron Lesue is out for the season after being injured in an April 26 loss at Cleveland. ... QB Tommy Grady has completed 65 percent of his passes the past two games, his best percentage in a two-game span this season.

Kiss: Lost 45-42 last Saturday at Cleveland, its fifth loss in a row after starting the season 2-1. ... Acquired QB Aaron Garcia in a trade Monday with Jacksonville. The 43-year-old completed 60.1 percent of his passes last season for 40 touchdowns and six interceptions. ... Has lost by 10 points or fewer in three of its six losses this season.

Hidden stat: Power WR Rodney Wright has caught 28 passes in the past two games, which is more than all but two Power receivers have had the entire season.

"People want to have that total package," AFL commissioner Jerry Kurz said. "If they're going to spend their money to go to a sporting event, you need to give them value added, you need to give them other entertainment and you need to give them an experience.

"We do that with all of our teams, yet the Kiss have really come in and almost set a new bar about the entertainment value they're giving their fans. And that's what it should be. It should be we're throwing a party and a game happens to break out."

As is often the case with expansion franchises, the team has struggled, winning only two of its first eight games. But any shortcomings on the field have been more than made up for by success off of it.

Four home games into its existence, the Kiss average just shy of 11,000 fans per game and have not had fewer than 10,552 at a game. Though it technically plays in nearby Anaheim, the franchise has been able to capitalize on the Los Angeles market, the second largest in the country, which has not had an NFL team since 1995.

Of course, there's also the popularity of two of the team's primary owners. While the AFL has had famous owners before -- Ron Jaworski, Bernie Kosar and Lynn Swann come to mind -- having people that have appeal beyond sports fans has been beneficial.

"It helped us get people looking at us, coming to our games and watching our games on TV that might not have before," Kurz said. "They may not have been arena football fans or even known about us, but the publicity we generated with Gene and Paul owning the team has helped us get the exposure they felt we deserved and weren't getting."

The AFL's connection to Kiss started when the league booked the band to play at halftime of the Arena Bowl last season, but from that point the interest quickly became mutual.

Simmons and Stanley initiated conversations about how they loved the sport, how it fit with their business and marketing identity. Soon enough, they were asking about the possibility of getting a franchise for the Los Angeles market.

"It went quickly from there," Kurz said.

It has only moved more quickly since -- so much so that many in the sport have taken notice, even those well beyond the AFL offices.

"I've coached on expansion teams and played against a bunch of expansion teams, but there's nothing like the way this buzz has resonated throughout the sports community that's surrounding the LA franchise," Power coach Ron James said. "When you look at [Simmons and Stanley], they're outside-the-box thinkers, probably some of the strongest marketers that have ever been involved in the music industry, and it's really brought a breath of fresh air into the league."

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

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