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July 15, 2006

Jon Bon Jovi has plenty on his plate

His band is still going strong, but the rocker has filled up his life with more than just the music

It was the year he married his high school sweetheart, Dorothea, now the mother of his four children. It was also the year his band, Bon Jovi, rode the top of the charts with its "New Jersey'' album and the hit single, "I'll Be There For You.''

On June 11, 1989, Bon Jovi marked another watershed event: the band's first-ever concert at Giants Stadium.

For Jon Bon Jovi, the band's then 27-year-old lead singer, a diehard Giants fan who grew up a few exits south of the Meadowlands, in Sayreville, the sold-out "Homecoming'' show was something to savor.

"Playing Giants Stadium is a dream come true,'' Bon Jovi said in an interview before the concert, "because of all the years of playing with a band and all the years you would be driving up the turnpike knocking on [record company] doors with a tape and begging them to listen. And every time you'd drive up the turnpike, you'd look to your left and see the Meadowlands and ... you'd say to yourself, 'Someday.' "

The band, which dominated and largely defined the latter half of the 1980s with its rock anthems and "big hair,'' is, 17 years later, as solid and successful as ever. And Bon Jovi himself, now 44, is still dreaming big dreams as he travels the turnpike from his mansion in Middletown, N.J.

These days, though, he's heading south a lot, toward Philadelphia. He's playing at Citizens Bank Park this weekend. And the football team that's foremost in his thoughts isn't the Giants, though he's still a huge fan. It's the Philadelphia Soul, an Arena Football League franchise he has co-owned with real estate developer Craig A. Spencer since its inception in 2003.

The 18-team league, which finished its 20th season in May, probably has its share of absentee owners, but Bon Jovi is definitely not one of them.

Since ponying up $8 million for his share of the team, he's brought all his star power and marketing savvy to bear to help both the Soul and the AFL succeed.

He and his bandmates -- keyboardist David Bryan, drummer Tico Torres and guitarist Richie Sambora, who has a 2 percent stake in the Soul -- are regulars at the Wachovia Center, the team's home field in South Philadelphia, where they often entertain and mingle with fans.

To raise the league's profile, Bon Jovi made two movie shorts with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, an owner of the AFL's Colorado Crush, that have been shown in theaters nationwide.

He's also something of a mover and shaker in political fund-raising circles. In 2004, he and his wife hosted a fund-raising party for Sen. John Kerry that garnered $1 million for the presidential candidate. And, Bon Jovi and his band participated in the Live 8 concerts last year that raised awareness of the plight of people in Africa. Bon Jovi also did an episode "The West Wing'' this year during a break while on the road.

"It's all about pacing,'' he says of his many undertakings. "I think I've got a pretty good handle on it, but it's a team effort here, too -- I've got a wife and four kids who contribute to it. I'm also not one of those kinds of guys who can sit around and just rest on the memories of what he's accomplished in the past. It's old news. Who cares?''

Staying power

But let's not forget about the music.

The band has been one of the top-selling rock acts for nearly two decades, dating from the release of its breakthrough 1986 album "Slippery When Wet." More than 25 million copies of the album have been sold worldwide. The band has toured relentlessly around the world -- all in the name of getting their music out to the masses, Bon Jovi says.

"We earned our living playing live, and we weren't afraid to go to places like Africa, Asia and South America. The old adage was, 'If you don't have electricity, we'll bring our own,' " he said. "That's how we built our reputation and sold 100 million albums."

On top of that, their song, "Who Says You Can't Go Home," from Bon Jovi's 2005 release "Have a Nice Day," landed at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart in April.

Country? It was a first for any rock band. Ever.

"I appreciate that because ultimately it's a testament to a good song that defies formats," Bon Jovi said.

The song shot to the top thanks in some measure to a smart collaboration with country singer Jennifer Nettles, who fronts the country band Sugarland. Initially, Bon Jovi and Sambora, his writing partner shopped the video to Country Music Television to see if they could make it fly without any associated promotion. Then they approached Nettles and ultimately made history.

Making team different

Making history is becoming commonplace for Bon Jovi and the Soul.

What set this team apart from others in professional sports is its willingness to give back, not only money but also manpower, to the community.

With its philanthropic work, the team serves as a model for the AFL, according to Bon Jovi.

Buying the team wasn't strictly a business move. "For me, it was something that would satisfy me as a football fanatic, and more importantly, as a philanthropist,'' he says. "I get a lot of pleasure from it. It's like anything else in my life: If I wanted to try it, I tried it. Some win, some don't. Regardless, you have to take some risks sometimes, and this one seemed to make sense to me.''

In the Soul -- Bon Jovi came up with the name, which refers to the city's musical vibe -- he said he saw an opportunity to have a big-city platform that he could use to promote worthy causes.

"I knew that if I could get the media behind it, I could play Robin Hood, and if I could play Robin Hood, every year I could ... take a hundred grand, 200 grand, and find people that need it.'' The Soul has donated at least $750,000 to Philadelphia-area charities.

Business partner Spencer, 44, says he was impressed from the start with Bon Jovi's business acumen.

"He's one of the most serious businessmen I've ever come across,'' Spencer says. "He's very, very bright. He absolutely gets it.''

With the Soul, Bon Jovi can draw on the skills he's honed since taking over management of the band in 1992.

"There is a great misconception about somebody who's in a rock band,'' says Bon Jovi, a self-described control freak who has had to delegate more with the Soul. "If you think Bruce [Springsteen] doesn't know everything that's going on, you're wrong.''

One thing is for certain: There are a lot of less entertaining ways to spend $8 million.

Posted by riesambo at July 15, 2006 06:30 AM