From bodyguard to LA KISS boss: Joe Windham
BY JENNA L. JONES / OC REGISTER
Years before Joe Windham became the chief executive of the LA KISS arena football team, he was earning $100 to $4,000 an hour as a bodyguard. He worked on security details for Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson and the face-painted rockers of Kiss. There were other high-profile clients, but confidentiality agreements prevent him from talking about them.
When he wasn’t guarding the lives of Hollywood’s elite, Windham utlized the knowleged he garnered while studying business management at Arizona State University, advising and consulting various businesses and start-ups.
He worked with the National Hot Rod Association and in 2011 became president of the Arizona Rattlers, another team in the Arena Football League. The team won three consecutive championships under Windham, until he left late last year.
It was during his time working security for Kiss that Windham first met the band’s frontmen, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, and manager, Doc McGhee, who all share ownership of the LA KISS. The team calls the Honda Center in Anaheim home.
LA KISS, which has struggled to secure wins and a solid fan-base, played its first game in March 2014. During the season and postseason, the team won three games and lost 23. Only six players returned this year.
Although the Arena Football League has been around since 1987, it is still recovering from the cancellation of the 2009 season to settle financial troubles in bankruptcy court.
Last year, each team earned an estimated $2 million, according to Ivan Soto, executive director of the Arena Football League Players Union.
In contrast to the NFL, the arena league’s 12 teams play on a 50-yard field with a 24-man roster for a 20-week season from March to August. (NFL teams are allowed 53 players and play from September to January.) The league also has a flair for theatrics. LA KISS’ first game at the Honda Center featured pyrotechnics, rock music and women dancing in cages above the field.
Although there was a managing partner of the LA KISS last year, McGee, Simmons and Stanley decided to bring on someone who had experience with a sports franchise and the business acumen to keep the team financially intact.
Windham started consulting this year and became the CEO in May. With 12 full-time employees, the LA KISS corporate office is just a few blocks from the Honda Center – where the team plays.
A RETURN TO THE GAME
During his first months on the job, Windham sought to develop a more sustainable business strategy.
The LA KISS players’ housing was moved to Santa Ana from Lakewood to decrease driving costs; the team’s practice facility moved to Santa Ana College from Whittier; and the pricey entertainment during the games was re-evaluated.
Windham says it became clear the dancing cage women had to go, adding, “That cut was basic logic; it doesn’t make sense to have anything going on up in the air while the game is running. Plus, it was really expensive; it just doesn’t add to the game, so I wasn’t a big fan of it.”
The two main revenue streams for the team are ticket sales and sponsorships, Windham says. Tickets to an LA KISS game range from $10 to $250.
Although the LA KISS is still putting on a show with flames, lights and lasers, Windham says the team is returning to a focus on football.
“Last year was kind of a sensory overload. It would be like going to a Kiss concert and they didn’t play any music, or played crappy music. So we need to put a good product on the field. Football is our show.”
An imposing figure, Windham has a large frame that makes him easily mistakable for a player. He sat down recently for an interview to discuss player contracts, attendance, and Anaheim’s growing sports industry. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
Q. What factors caused Arena Football League executives to cancel the 2009 season?
A. The AFL got to a tipping point. The NFL got involved and all these people started buying up teams. Jerry Jones (owner of the Dallas Cowboys) bought a team, then everyone started paying players these crazy contracts, worth millions.
Our arenas, because they are indoor, only hold about 16,000 people. Average ticket price is about $35. But in the NFL, they have 60,000 to 70,000 seats and the average ticket price is $200, so you do the math. They can support a lot more. Plus, they have TV revenues.
Our expenses outweighed any possibility of revenue. (The league) was going to reorganize, and they ended up taking a year off, which I think hurt the league more than they thought it would. I wasn’t there, so this is just an outsider’s perspective.
Q. What’s the average pay for players in the Arena Football League?
A. It’s around $900 a game and that’s just the cash, but there is other compensation. The team takes care of their housing and food. We feed them two meals a day. The total compensation package is much more than ($900). If all of your expenses are paid and you are making that kind of money, it’s not too bad. You’re not going to get rich and you’re not going to retire on it, but you are going to be able to showcase your skills and possibly get to the NFL.
Q. Are players allowed to move at any time from the Arena Football League to the NFL or Canadian Football League?
A. We allow them to go to the Canadian Football League or the National Football League at any time during the season. We have an agreement with them. We still hold the player’s rights, so if he ever comes back to the AFL or if he gets cut from up there, we still own his rights. Basically, they go into “suspend” at the time, so if they stay there for two years and they want to come back, they’d have to come back to this team.
Q. Why is that?
A. The NFL, obviously, the minimum pay is $800,000 or whatever it is, and that’s a pretty good chunk. The AFL is a professional league and you’re paid, but you’re not paid in the millions.
Q. How do you attract players to come play for the LA KISS and move to Orange County?
A. We are trying to provide players with the opportunity to build something after football. A lot of these guys are hoping to get up to the NFL, and if they do, then they are gone. But if not, after this, there’s nothing else. (In Orange County) they have the potential to make something, to try and find a job and build a brand, and that’s what we are trying to help our guys do. We are trying to help them build a brand so they have something after football.
Q. With a seat capacity of 16,000, how many people on average attend each game?
A. We have about 8,000, maybe a little bit under, per game. We had a pretty tough schedule because the Ducks were using the Honda Center for much of the season.
I came to the party late, and the (LA KISS) hadn’t set the schedule with the Honda Center yet, so in the first part of the season we only had two home games. It’s hard to keep momentum because we played home games and then we were gone for 28 days – and then home and then gone for 21 days.
But we’ve been home for the last couple of games and there are more games at home. We are hoping to have some momentum and eclipse 10,000 to 12,000 (in attendance).
Q. Does being close to Angel Stadium affect your attendance?
A. When I was with the Arizona Rattlers, the Arizona Diamondbacks were only two blocks away. We would have a game on the same day as the Diamondbacks, and it actually helped our attendance.
If you have season tickets to baseball, the team is home for 13 games, and not too many people are going six days a week to a baseball game. But they are in a sports mode, so what we would find is that some people would go Friday to baseball and then Saturday to a football game. So it actually kind of helps to be close to other sports teams.
Q. Are you working with the Angels in any way?
A. We’ve talked about doing some cross-promotional things with the Angels and they get it. The Diamondbacks were a little less willing to do cross-promotion things. The Angels are looking at it because they realize that keeping more people in Orange County for sports is going to be good for everybody. If they have a game that starts at 1 p.m. and our game starts at 7 p.m., we could do something in their park that says, hey, if you bring your ticket to an LA KISS game, then you get $5 off or vice versa.
Q. Do you think the LA KISS are going to to become a more competitive team?
A. I think next year, we are going to be a force to be reckoned with. I think already people have noticed that we are here to play and stay. As we get better, I think next year it is going to be easier to recruit, which is going to give us a better team and then each year it will get better. Within three years, I wouldn’t be surprised if we got to the championship game and possibly win it.