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February 28, 2005

The Philadelphia Inquirer

The philosophy carries over to his band, which is increasingly being called upon to take one for the team. Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, one of four minority owners, has a 2 percent stake in the Soul.

Bon Jovi is devoted to making the Soul a hit

By Suzette Parmley

Inquirer Staff Writer

After watching his football team practice on a recent Thursday afternoon in Delaware County, the chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Soul got into his BMW sedan for the 90-minute drive to his wife and four children at home in central New Jersey.

Jon Bon Jovi's workday was not over. He continued to field calls late into the night. There was a movie offer to weigh. He had some final touches to make on his band's new album. And he had to handle some personnel issues with his newest and riskiest venture, the Arena Football League franchise he landed in 2003.

Early into his second season as co-owner and cochairman of the Philadelphia Soul, New Jersey's hardest-rockin' chief executive needs a hit on the field. The front man for Bon Jovi, a band that has sold tens of millions of records and played to sold-out stadiums around the globe, is finding out how difficult it can be to fill the seats in the same arena week in and week out.

"When you're selling a Soul ticket, you learn how to sell," he said with a wry smile. "It's humbling."

For the Soul's home opener on Feb. 13, against the Nashville Kats, the team fell about 1,000 tickets shy of a sellout at the 17,639-seat Wachovia Center.

"It's much different," Bon Jovi said of life offstage. "When you're the lead singer in a rock band, you deliver a great record. You don't have to solicit people for sponsorship money or money to survive."

The rock-star CEO devotes about 30 hours a week to the Soul, often spending hours on conference calls with the other team owners to discuss product licensing and sponsorships to ArenaBowl, the AFL's own Super Bowl.

Bon Jovi also serves on the league's properties committee, which deals with licensing and merchandising, including uniforms, game balls, trading cards and video games. He confers regularly with his partner and co-owner, Craig A. Spencer, and tries to attend at least one of the team's four practices each week at the Tri State Sports complex in Aston.

"It looks small, but it's a multimillion-dollar business we're running," said Bon Jovi, whose work attire is faded jeans and a T-shirt. "That's not something you can take lightly, unless you don't mind writing checks, and I mind writing checks."

He wrote a big one - $8 million - to own half of the franchise in 2003. Spencer, a real estate developer and head of the Arden Group, kicked in another $8 million.

The Soul is among a dozen franchises in the 17-team league without an NFL affiliation, which meant that Bon Jovi and Spencer had to build the franchise from the ground up.

In its debut season last year, the Soul led the league in attendance with an average of 16,866 fans per game and sold out six of eight home games. The league said the Soul ranked first in revenue in merchandise sales and second in corporate sponsorships.

Neither owner would say how much revenue the Soul brought in last year. Spencer would only confirm that the team made money.

Like other business owners, Bon Jovi is constantly searching for ways to motivate his workers. He suggested having a pregame team dinner the night before every road game. He is a proponent of meditation - something he does before rock concerts - to relax prior to games.

"Jon has a great intuitive feel for doing things the right way," said Ron Jaworski, president of the Soul and a former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. "He knows what it takes to become a successful entity from a marketing perspective and doing things the right way."

Bon Jovi has invited NFL coaches to give pep talks, such as Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots; Jim Fassel of the Baltimore Ravens; and Andy Reid of the Eagles. Last year, he and the Soul players and coaches watched Miracle, the movie about the U.S. hockey team's Olympic victory over the Soviet Union.

"We're constantly reevaluating who we are as individuals and how to best serve the ultimate purpose, which is to bring Philadelphia a championship," he said.

Bon Jovi, who has never taken a management course and did not go to college, operates by instinct. He said he took on the Soul because he sensed a growing market for an American sport that's trying to win fans here as well as in Europe and Asia, areas he toured with his band.

He learned a lot from the music business. He landed a record deal when he was 21. More than a decade ago, he formed his own management company to represent his band. He negotiates the record deals and generally calls the shots.

As CEO of the Soul, Bon Jovi subscribes to what he calls "the Henry Ford theory of management" and delegates most tasks. Another management hero of his is Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots.

Belichick, whom Bon Jovi considers a good friend, gave him advice on how to delegate authority and yet set the tone as a leader.

Bon Jovi's Soul inner circle includes Jaworski, who oversees football operations and assists him on strategic marketing as team president. Spencer, as co-owner, focuses on the financial operations and routinely reviews budgets and revenue forecasts with Mimi Box, the chief financial officer. Leo Carlin Jr., a minority owner, deals with broadcast and workers' compensation issues.

"I'm a control freak," said Bon Jovi, who turns 44 on Wednesday. "But I'm smart enough to know that any good leader has a great group of people around him."

The philosophy carries over to his band, which is increasingly being called upon to take one for the team. Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, one of four minority owners, has a 2 percent stake in the Soul.

When the Soul needed a logo, Bon Jovi promised its designer work from the band in lieu of paying him. Last year, the band performed at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City and filmed a DVD there in exchange for the casino's sponsorship of the Soul. It entertained season-ticket holders and sponsors at last month's team pep rally.

"He's everywhere. I see him at every home game," Fred Vattimo, director of marketing for Bradford White Co., which manufactures water heaters, said of Bon Jovi. As a sponsor, the Ambler company gets several mentions during Soul games over the public-address system, has its slogan and Web site emblazoned on a dasher board at the 20-yard line, and receives a club box whenever it hosts a Soul game at the Wachovia Center.

Bon Jovi has also found some synergy between football and rock. At the Soul's home opener this month, fans shown on the giant video screen were asked to sing lyrics to his band's songs for prizes. A banner near the field reads, "Bon Jovi - New Music Coming Soon," teasing the spring release of the band's next album.

On Friday, Bon Jovi and the band were holed up in a studio at his Rumson, N.J., home recording tracks for that album. During breaks, he responded to e-mail from the Soul front office over marketing, publicity and merchandising, and returned calls. "It's not unusual for me to talk to him straight from the studio," said Spencer, who had called to ask about the Soul's starting lineup for Sunday's game against the Dallas Desperados.

The rock star knows that marquee names and a winning team sell tickets. After the Soul finished 5-11 last year, he recruited Tony Graziani, the star quarterback for the Los Angeles Avengers, and made him the AFL's highest-paid player.

A football junkie and lifelong New York Giants season-ticket holder, Bon Jovi grew up in Sayreville, N.J., and his celebrity status eventually gave him full access to the team he idolized.

"It was the Giants that bonded my relationship with my father and family," he said. "I only played Pop Warner, but it taught me about dedication and commitment."

That sports can build such bonds fuels Bon Jovi's passion for the Soul. But making a team successful doesn't happen without a lot of hard work. Far from "Livin' on a Prayer" - one of the band's biggest hits - he knows he has to sell his product.

"There is an economic side to this that's real," he said. "If you don't make the bottom line, you're writing the check. It's that simple."

Kicking Around Arena Football

Today's Game

Dallas Desperados vs. the Soul Wachovia Center, 3 p.m., Channel 10

While Arena football has been around since 1987, Philadelphia is only in its second year with the high-scoring indoor game played on a 50-yard field. Here are some key facts about the league:

Number of teams:17

Famous team owners: Jon Bon Jovi (Philadelphia Soul), Mike Ditka (Chicago Rush), John Elway (Colorado Crush), Tim McGraw (Nashville Kats), Jerry Jones (Dallas Desperados)

Season:16 games over 17 weeks (each team has one bye week)

Average attendance per game: 12,024 in 2004

Average player salary: Between $35,000 and $40,000

Highest-paid player: Tony Graziani, quarterback of the Soul, who will make $700,000 over three years.

Television coverage:NBC will broadcast 14 of the Soul's 16 games

Prices: Soul tickets range from $13 to $153, and season tickets range from $80 to $1,200.

Championship: ArenaBowl XIX will be played in Las Vegas June 12.

SOURCE: Arena Football League

Posted by riesambo at February 28, 2005 09:16 PM