By ALAN SNEL
When they’re out in public and the video cameras are focused on them, new Las Vegas Lights FC owner Brett Lashbrook and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman are the king and queen of earnestness and enthusiasm.
The Lashbrook-Goodman Downtown Soccer Promotion Tour made a pit stop at Las Vegas City Hall at 10 a.m. today. What appeared to be the seventh floor kitchen with lots of pleasant photos of a smiling Goodman with constituents was converted into a press conference setting complete with city of Las Vegas wall backdrop, the Lights’ logo light and a soccer ball to literally boot.
The Lights summoned the media to allow the effervescent Lashbrook to inform the press that his new United Soccer League team would be playing three pre-season games against the big boys of Major League Soccer on a trio of consecutive Saturday nights in February.
The MLS team from Montreal comes to Cashman Field Feb. 10; Vancouver visits Las Vegas Feb. 17; D.C. United plays the Lights Feb. 24. The Lights, the 33rd team in United Soccer League, start their regular season in March.
I like attending the Lashbrook-Goodman gatherings because their upbeat Joel Osteen-style presentations are like a soccer revival. And the analogy is not too far off because the Las Vegas Lights FC and their 20 employees work out of a downtown church on 3rd Street.
It’s good business sense to play three MLS teams in exhibition games because the business strategy’s end goal, so to speak, is to parlay the attendance, entertainment value and buzz around the Lights into eventually moving the club up one notch to Major League Soccer.
It’s a business model that has worked for six of the last 10 MLS teams; that is, those half-dozen team jumped from USL to the big leagues of soccer in the U.S. with the other four new MLS teams being based in the mega markets of Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York.
Lashbrook hopes fans will attend any of those three pre-season games to get a taste of professional soccer and the party-like chanting, singing and drum-beating atmosphere in the stands.
“Give us a shot,” Lashbrook said. ” “We’re pricing tickets to go.”
Indeed, the Lights’ average ticket will be about 20 bucks and the team is pushing a $200 season ticket deal for a minimum of at least 20 game, including the three pre-season matches that Lashbrook likens to soccer spring training. Lashbrook the soccer spring training is akin to spring training baseball in the Phoenix area. The Lights season ticket deal even includes a free $80 jersey.
The city of Las Vegas pursued MLS three years ago when city officials proposed a public-private partnership with a development company to build a soccer stadium in Symphony Park. But the notion of using public dollars for the venue was a politically rough sell, and MLS ended up shunning Las Vegas in favor of other expansion cities. These days, Goodman hypes soccer in downtown in much the same way Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak promotes the Oakland-to-Las Vegas Raiders and Vegas Golden Knights.
The city is no longer pursuing an MLS team right now. It’s following a different game plan, starting with the Lights soccer team at what is the Triple A level and hoping Lashbrook can do what he did in Orlando by transitioning a USL club to MLS.
“A clear path to MLS is through USL,” Lashbrook said.
Lashbrook hopes to attract 10,000 fans a game to Cashman — a tough challenge in the summer when temperatures stick around triple digits into the evening hours when the games are played. The Las Vegas 51s baseball team of the Pacific Coast League faces the same hurdle as baseball attendance drops at Cashman during the hot summer months.
In 2018, the Lights will share Cashman with the 51s. But in 2019, the Triple A baseball team moves into a new $150 million ballpark in Downtown Summerlin next to the Vegas Golden Knights’ two-rink practice facility and headquarters near Red Rock Resort.
The next stop on the Lights Media Tour will be announcements of business partnerships, which are needed to generate revenues besides ticket sales.
LVSportsBiz.com thinks downtown Zappos would be an ideal partner for the Lights. While Zappos historically shies away from sponsoring pro sports, Zappos leader Tony Hsieh’s love and commitment for downtown Las Vegas is matched by Lashbrook’s belief in soccer success in downtown and that the Lights will do well on the business side if downtown businesses buy into the soccer team’s presence and influence.
If the Lights can attract crowds nearing 10,000 for its more than 20 games, that’s about 200,000 people coming into downtown who can potentially hit the bars and restaurants during the USL season.
Zappos has more than 1,000 employees, including many young workers who make wages that probably would be more suited for a $20 ticket at a Lights game rather than the average $88 ticket for a Vegas Golden Knights game.
The Lights have already begun talking with Zappos, so watch for LVSportsBiz.com coverage on that potential business partnership.
Contact LVSportsBiz.com founder/writer Alan Snel at asnel@LVSportsBiz.com