Businessman Craig Spencer, founder and CEO of Arden Group of Philadelphia, and New Jersey rock star Jon Bon Jovi are getting ready to begin their third season as majority owners of the Philadelphia Soul.
Initially reluctant partners, the duo leads an expansion franchise that in its first two seasons has the led the Arena Football League in nearly every off-field category, including ticket revenue, corporate partnership revenues and charitable donations. On the field, the team — with a new coach and largely overhauled roster — is aiming for its first playoff appearance. The team’s new slogan: “Time to Win.”
Spencer, Bon Jovi, team President Ron Jaworski, new General Manager Rich Lisk and AFL Commissioner David Baker recently sat down with Philadelphia Business Journal reporter John George for an interview that covered the upcoming season, why the team won’t have any bobblehead giveaways this year, and what was behind those T.O. T-shirts.
PBJ: How has being an owner of an AFL team differed from your expectations?
Jon Bon Jovi: It’s a lot more work than I expected. I think we both thought the team was basically going to run itself. I don’t know where these pipe dreams came from. It’s a full-time job, year-round. But also, owning the team has given us more pleasure than we’ve ever imagined.
Craig Spencer: It’s obviously fun; it’s sports. We’re having a ball. I wish we were doing a little better on the field, but off the field it’s been as much fun as I ever could have imagined. The partnership has been a pleasure.
At first I said no because I don’t do a lot of partnership deals. It was very interesting what the league did. They had two guys interested in a team and they could have just said whoever gives us the most money gets it. But they insisted we meet. Bon Jovi: I was opposed to [a partnership] as well. I don’t have partnerships in anything I do. … I ultimately realized with my creative instincts and Craig’s administrative background we’d be able to make this thing fly.
PBJ: (To Ron Jaworski). You spent a lot of years trying to get an AFL team for Philadelphia.
Ron Jaworski: Prior to getting involved with Jon and Craig, I had tried for about 10 years to bring arena football to Philadelphia with two different ownership groups. I just felt this was a great football town and arena football would work here.
When Craig first called me to see if I still had an interest in being involved, quite honestly, I didn’t. I was a little bit hurt by not getting the team. Craig was relentless in calling me. One day I was golfing and he got me on the 12th hole. I just made a birdie and I must have been feeling good. He finally convinced me to join.
PBJ: Let’s talk about this year’s slogan: “Time to win.” Philadelphia fans can be pretty tough. Are you worried that kind of a pledge could backfire — like when the 76ers failed to win a championship for years after that “We Owe You One” campaign back in the late ’70s.
Jaworski: When we were playing Dallas last year and we were getting our asses kicked. I was upset. We were all upset. We were getting our ass kicked, to a team from Dallas, in our building, and our fans were booing when we headed into the locker room at half-time. You can take that two ways. I took it as a positive. They cared enough to boo us. To me, that elevated us to the major leagues in this town. People cared enough to be angry and boo us. Since that time we’ve worked tirelessly to make this team better. Our focus has been ‘how do we win football games.’
Spencer: I think “Time to Win” is exactly what it says. We feel the pressure to win. We are all highly competitive people, and we think our fans deserve a winner. We are doing everything in our power to win. If we don’t win it isn’t going to be because of lack of desire or lack of opening up our checkbook. We spend as much as we are legally permitted to spend. We have a hard cap. I think if we don’t win, our fans will see the effort we made. I don’t think we’ll lose an awful lot of fans. Our goal is to start winning.
PBJ: The team got a lot of publicity with its “We don’t want T.O. either” T-shirts you made during the whole Eagles and Terrell Owens mess.
Jaworski: They showed them on Monday Night Football.
Bon Jovi: Character is the foundation of this organization. If you are not a man of character, you’re gone. Team captains have been relieved of their positions here. Stars are gone for lack of character. If we can be one example to this sporting community, it’s that we insist on character and not characters. If I can give your kids a role model, we are helping to fulfill something that is lacking in pro sports. The T.O. thing is an example of what I don’t want our fans experiencing.
PBJ: What new things do you have planned for the upcoming season?
Rich Lisk: One is Super Soul Sunday (on Feb. 5). Bon Jovi will perform at half-time. There’s also going to be a lot more in terms of customer service for our season ticket holders. We’ll have lunches with the GM and the coaches. We’ll be sending special gifts in the mail. I’m not big on giving away 2,000 bobblehead dolls. I like doing things like sending signed programs out to fans as a surprise, or taking 75 or 100 fans out to lunch with the coaches and the front office staff and letting fans ask whatever questions they want for three hours.
David Baker: From a league perspective, we have two new teams, the Utah Blaze and the Kansas City Brigade. We are celebrating our 20th anniversary. We also have a new video game with EA Sports that will be released Feb. 7. These days, as all of us who have kids who are gamers know, a video game is maybe more valuable than a television deal. It will teach kids our game and our players. And we have a new commercial for Arena Bowl XX in Las Vegas. Ron Jaworski will be featured prominently.
PBJ: What has having a Philadelphia franchise meant for the AFL?
Baker: It’s been great. At first, I was really skeptical because I had another rock ’n’ roll star, who shall remain nameless, involved with the league. I wasn’t impressed by the guy. When we first met Jon, he wanted us to go to one of his concerts. I thought I was little old to be going to a concert. After getting to know Jon, he really impressed us with his concerts and how he treats his fans. I did have to veto a trade involving an autographed guitar. I don’t think [NFL Commissioner] Paul Tagliabue ever had to do that. We had to work hard to get Craig and Jon together, and we had to carve out a place for Ron. I think this is really a perfect ownership group. They work enormously hard for their team.