What's a rock star doing running a football team?
|Soul Proprietor: Jon Bon Jovi
Rock legends are usually known for hemorrhaging money on cocaine or being glad-handed into harebrained oil pipeline investments. Most of them are poster boys (and girls) for Suze Orman. Not Jon Bon Jovi, whose latest entrepreneurial adventure embodies an intuitive business savvy that has marked his entertainment career since his first album debuted in 1984. Since last fall, Jon has co-owned the Philadelphia Soul, an expansion team of the Arena Football League. He plunged into this venture not as an absentee owner, but as a passionate football fan and a successful marketer who guided his own career through the fever-chart topography of pop music, selling 100 million albums and counting. The Arena Football League has been struggling for legitimacy -- in the long and intimidating shadow of the NFL -- for 18 years. But recently, under the colorful leadership of commissioner David Baker, it has begun to grab some traction. There's an NBC network contract, and there's a clutch of owners who don't see themselves as B-list players: John Elway, Jerry Jones Jr., Casey Wasserman (grandson of the last true mogul Lew), and Bon Jovi himself. Bon Jovi and partner Craig Spencer, a local Philadelphia businessman, assembled a team from scratch and built an organizational culture within just a few months on learning they had won the franchise. The team hasn't been a hobby or an investment toy for either of them. Bon Jovi is intimately involved; I observed a meeting of the team's management where he knew the details and sweated the small stuff: Is there enough merchandise to sell? Where should the autograph tables be placed after the game? Bon Jovi named the team, created the mascot (the Soul Man), has a strong hand in designing the on-field events, and devotes a ton of his time to the enterprise. Today, the Philadelphia Soul is leading the AFL in ticket sales, advertising sales, and merchandising revenue. Bon Jovi also had a personal hand in selling advertising to national sponsors such as Samsung. And he works the local media, too, bringing players to local radio stations, guaranteeing airtime. Much of the team's commitment to the community and charity work springs directly from his vision.
As I looked into this story, though, what proved most compelling was Jon himself. The basic contours are well known -- a kid from Jersey who never lost touch with his roots, who is still married to his high school sweetheart after 15 years and has four children. But what emerged was a different dimension -- a thoughtful, self-aware global celebrity with a savvy sense of marketing and genuine leadership skill.
Creative people often fail dismally in business. They believe they are their own sole wellspring of ideas. They don't listen. They feel no obligation to cultivate people, so convinced are they that their magical endowments should inspire worship. Bon Jovi thrives in both worlds. I spoke with him at the New York City offices of Jon Bon Jovi Enterprises. He was relaxed, casual, unguarded. Not only was there no entourage, there were no handlers in the room. When I finished the interview, I was convinced that he is a genuine Inc.-style entrepreneur.
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