By ALAN SNEL
Brett Lashbrook doesn’t mind that a new NHL team will start later this year or that the Raiders are coming to Las Vegas or that mega fights/UFC events like Sin City.
Figuring the Las Vegas metro market can support another pro team, Lashbrook is forging ahead for 2018 and will spend close to $10 million on a team, players and marketing to launch a new United Soccer League (USL) soccer club at Cashman Field in downtown Las Vegas.
Lashbrook — who shepherded a USL team in Orlando to the big leagues, Major League Soccer — will lean on the 18-35 age demographic in downtown Las Vegas to help fill the Cashman venue. Lashbrook believes that demo will buy the $20 game tickets for 90 minutes of fast-paced soccer action and will represent a third of the 10,000 tickets he hopes to sell at Cashman.
“I’d prefer to stay away from disclosing specific marketing strategies used in both (Orlando and Las Vegas) markets, but rather say the ‘playbook’ is built upon an overall plan foundation of providing an authentic soccer experience at an affordable price that is meant to appeal to the local market, especially those aged 18-35,” Lashbrook said.
“We are going to create a ‘party’ around the sport of soccer in downtown Las Vegas that will appeal to locals desire for having an outlet for their ‘local pride,’ ” Lashbrook said.
Lashbrook noted that if the USL club in Reno can draw 5,000 fans a game, then the team in Las Vegas — which is four times the population as Reno — should be able to attract 10,000.
He projects that another 20 percent of the 10,000 tickets will be purchased by general soccer fans, ranging from soccer moms to Hispanic groups. The Vegas club will play an exhibition game in February and then 16 home games at Cashman and 16 away games.
Lashbrook plans to have his 23-man roster assembled by the end of the year and will hire 50 for the overall payroll, including the players and business staffers.
He wants a team that will reflect the ethos and style of Las Vegas; that is, the squad will have fast players who will play with pizzazz and speed. He’s looking to field a high-scoring team to take advantage of the Cashman configuration that will allow for the biggest soccer field allowed under FIFA rules — 120 by 80 yards.
“What does Vegas like? Excitement, excitement, excitement,” Lashbrook said.
Lashbrook grew up in Kansas City and lives in Summerlin. He moved to Las Vegas in 2015 and his mother is retired here. After leaving Orlando, Lashbrook was consulting with soccer ownership groups in Tampa Bay and Sacramento on their efforts to move from the United Soccer League to Major League Soccer.
Lashbrook said the club is 100 percent owned by his family and is being funded through private investment and no public money. “We believe that Las Vegas is a great soccer market and can’t wait to prove it next year and beyond with sell-out crowds and community excitement,” he said.
Lashbrook knows all about a recent bid for professional soccer in Las Vegas. Lashbrook was chief operating officer of the Orlando USL team from 2013-15 when Justin Findlay of the Findlay car dealership family attempted to start a Major League Soccer team and build a publicly-subsidized $200 million soccer-specific stadium in Symphony Park in Las Vegas.
Findlay worked with the Cordish Companies, a development company out of Baltimore, on the soccer stadium deal and MLS bid. But Major League Soccer picked Atlanta and Minneapolis for expansion franchises. MLS spurned Las Vegas, which was split about subsidizing a soccer stadium.
“I was disappointed for Justin and that the MLS bid ended the way it did,” Lashbrook said.
Lashbrook doesn’t see the new NHL Golden Knights team as his competition. He said different fans will buy an $80 NHL ticket and a $20 United Soccer League ticket.
“My competition,” Lashbrook said, “is what’s going on during that July night” when the soccer team is playing.
The United Soccer League is akin to Triple A baseball, one notch below the majors. The league will be adding three more teams in 2018 — Las Vegas, plus Fresno and Nashville.
He said the Las Vegas soccer schedule will work around the Pacific Coast League schedule for the 51s Triple A baseball team in Cashman Field. Lashbrook loves Cashman’s downtown location and its configuration for a soccer field.
“It’s the right stadium in the right place,” Lashbrook said.
He said that after the 51s move to Summerlin for their new ballpark, he envisions knocking down the baseball field’s outfield walls and improving Cashman as a soccer venue. Possible improvements could be a kids zone or a beer garden.
Lashbrook is already rolling out the soccer marketing playbook here in Vegas, and his enthusiasm borders on evangelical.
“Sports is a powerful tool. And we think using the world’s most powerful sport in soccer is an awesome platform to have success locally,” he said.
“And this has been done in markets more than just Orlando. It’s been done across the US and Canada in multiple cities that are both smaller and less diverse than Vegas,” Lashbrook said.
“This is why we are so excited by the opportunity here in Vegas — we know there are already soccer fans that want an outlet to cheer on a team they can call their own in an authentic soccer stadium experience,” he said. “And Cashman Field and downtown Vegas gives us that outlet.”
He will pay $6,000 per game to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) for rent. The LVCVA is the Cashman landlord. Lashbrook noted the USL team in Reno also shares the venue with a Triple A baseball team and even fabled Yankee Stadium is home to a baseball team and a soccer franchise.
And he said there are plenty of professional soccer players to choose from, including Major League Soccer loaners and international players.
“We’re the second largest market without pro soccer. We have young people. We have good median incomes. We have diversity,” said Lashbrook, clicking off the reasons why he thinks a United Soccer League team will succeed in Las Vegas.
All Lashbrook needs now is a team name, a logo and some logo gear.
Offer your soccer team name suggestion on www.Vegasprosoccer.com
Contact LVASportsBiz.com founder/writer Alan Snel at asnel@LVSportsBiz.com