Bon Jovi still happy to put his heart into the Soul


Jon Bon Jovi insists that he is in things for the long haul, as a performer, an Arena Football League owner, and a philanthropist. As the Soul and Bon Jovi enter their fourth season together, he remains passionate about his team, his ability to build homes for the needy, and his performing career.

Last season the Soul finished 9-7, earned their first playoff berth, and won a postseason game before ending the season with a gut-wrenching 31-27 loss at Orlando.

While the Soul were making their first playoff appearance, Bon Jovi played to more than two million fans during the 90-day Have a Nice Day tour that spanned Europe, North America and Japan.

Even though the tour coincided with the Soul season, Bon Jovi found a way to keep track of his team while entertaining his fans.

In Germany, he set up a TV system, so the Soul game was televised while he was performing.

"I was looking back [at the screen] and the audience was wondering what I was doing," Bon Jovi said during a recent lunch interview. "I was singing to the screen, but by the end of the game, I had everybody yelling 'touchdown.' "

Bon Jovi has proven during his tenure that he is an involved owner, but not meddlesome. He allows his personnel people, such as president Ron Jaworski, to make the football decisions. Bon Jovi, who never saw an Arena game before becoming the Soul's majority owner in 2004, is now a certified AFL expert, but his true expertise lies in marketing.

Whether it's promoting a record or his team, Bon Jovi knows the proper buttons to push. He realizes with his celebrity that he is a needed ambassador for arena football, and remains as committed as when he brought the expansion team to Philadelphia.

"I wouldn't sell the team if you gave me $50 million," he said. "I swear it's not for sale."

He did concede that he would consider adding a partner, if it were somebody such as the Eagles, who he says have been so helpful, allowing the team to use the NovaCare Complex for its preseason practices.

Bon Jovi, who will turn 45 on March 2, also doesn't plan to slow down as a performer, even though he says his days of going on tour for 240 shows are behind him. "I think my touring will be curtailed," he said. "I don't envision being out there like [Mick] Jagger at 64, and I don't mean that as a slight because honestly they are our role models from a live perspective and the catalog of music they have written."

Bon Jovi insists it's not the adulation of the fans that keeps him going as a performer.

"I don't have the need for the applause that some journeymen have," he said. "They don't have other things that keep them happy or busy."

Bon Jovi, on the other hand, doesn't have enough time in the day for all his pursuits.

"I have the team, the philanthropy, I have a wonderful family, thank God," he said. "Once in a while I have a movie career when I have time to pursue it."

Despite his varied interests, there is something about making records that never gets old.

"I think I will always want to make records because anybody who is creative needs to create," he said. "So I need to write. When I write and I'm proud of it, I want to share it. If I want to share it, I have to put it out."

He also has to give back. A few years ago, Bon Jovi was staying at a five-star hotel when he looked out his window and saw a homeless man. At that point he realized that homelessness doesn't discriminate, that it can affect all races, all ages. A few missed paychecks can make life a living hell for many people.

So Bon Jovi has since teamed with Habitat for Humanity and various corporate sponsors to build homes in impoverished areas. In Philadelphia he is building 21 homes. There are 28 more in New Orleans. And he's working on programs that will not only build homes, but also train people to be able to survive in the work world.

"If I build 15 houses on that block and you have people who take pride in ownership of houses, they will watch the block," he said. "The bad guy who wants to deal crack to the neighbors, you watch grandma come out with her broomstick and chase him away."

As for the Soul and the Arena Football League, there is still plenty of building to do.

The new five-year television deal with ESPN has been hailed by all affiliated with the league as a great deal for the AFL, but nobody is mentioning the biggest omission - no rights fee.

While ESPN is a partner in the league, the AFL won't technically be paid to have its games televised. NBC, which previously televised AFL games, also didn't pay a rights fee.

"It's tough," Bon Jovi said about not having a rights fee. But he added that the exposure the league would receive from ESPN and all its entities would be invaluable.

In a bit of irony, no team will be exposed nationally more than the Soul, but that could also have a negative effect on the box office.

Last season, the Soul played primarily on the weekends, and the season began the first week of February.

This year the season has been pushed back a month. After an opening week bye, the Soul will begin their season March 9 in Nashville. The season, won't end until July 29, when the AFL title game is played in New Orleans.

The Soul will be on ESPN2 for seven telecasts, six on Mondays and one on a Thursday. Weeknight games aren't the most desirable for a team that is attempting to sell its product to youngsters and their parents.

"I own the team and I can't take my 11-year-old to the games if they are on a school night," Bon Jovi said.

And when school is out, there are a lot of other activities the Soul will have to compete with.

"When school is out everybody runs for the Shore," he said. "I'm scared to death about that, but the move is for the betterment of the league."

The Soul have become the AFL's signature franchise, having played to 93 percent capacity the first three years. Yet Bon Jovi is smart enough to realize that it will take more than his celebrity to continue selling the Soul and the league.

"The honeymoon is over," he said. "... All I'm hoping is people continue to see if a good guy comes out and puts his heart on his sleeve and says I'm for you, can you be here for us, it works."

Bon Jovi's tireless promotion of his team has given the Soul a profile in the crowded Philadelphia sports landscape.

Just don't tell him he has arrived, either as an owner, performer or philanthropist. There are many more mountains he plans to scale.

"When I played a high school dance, I thought that was as big as it got," he said. "The first time I played Giants Stadium, I thought that it was as big as it got. The first 100 million albums, I thought that was as big as it got. Last year we made more money than we ever made and thought that was as big as it got, and I don't think we're even near there yet. Every year you think that's it. All I know is that I'm having a blast in everything I do."