By ALAN SNEL
Two new professional sports teams in Las Vegas are launching in 2018.
But you could not find two more different approaches to marketing, selling and promoting their product.
For the new downtown soccer team, the Las Vegas Lights FC, owner Brett Lashbrook has been everywhere. Turn on the morning TV and there’s Lashbrook complete with his Lights blue-and-yellow scarf looking effervescent at 6 a.m. on one of Las Vegas’ morning TV news shows. Other times, he’s hanging with Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman telling media at city hall that his new United Soccer League team will host three pre-season teams with a trio of MLS clubs. During this weekend, his team held a combine at a local soccer complex to evaluate local players dreaming of making the Lights. You could not find a more accessible business head of a team.
Then you have the new WNBA team in Las Vegas, the former San Antonio Stars, purchased by MGM Resorts International earlier this year and moved from San Antonio to Las Vegas for its rookie Sin City season at 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center. While Lashbrook is open and chatty about his Lights, the Las Vegas public and media have been met with a wall of silence from the WNBA team’s new owners after MGM Resorts’ purchase of the club was approved by the NBA and WNBA in October. The team’s coach and president of basketball operations is former NBA player Bill Laimbeer, who has been successful coaching two WNBA teams but has not made any public appearances to promote his new team in Las Vegas yet.
The Lights start their regular season in March as the 33rd team in the USL, kind of a Triple A league one notch below Major League Soccer. The Lights’ goal is to move to the MLS one day after showing they can attract fans to 10,000-seat Cashman Field.
The WBNA team starts in Las Vegas in May as one of 12 league teams. The team in San Antonio drew about 6,300 fans per game in a league that averaged about 7,700 fans a game.
While Lashbrook allowed the public to name his team, the only sound around MGM Resorts International marketing plan has been crickets. With MGM Resorts mum about its new WNBA team, the only limited chatter about the club is among some local basketball fans who speculate the hotel-casino company bought the WNBA team to pave the way for an NBA team at T-Mobile Arena. Local hoops fans believe the new WNBA team will not make a profit and struggle to attract big crowds during its initial year in Las Vegas, but it will help MGM Resorts recruit an NBA franchise it covets to provide revenue and home dates for T-Mobile Arena.
It’s even unclear what the team’s name is because LVSportsBiz.com was informed by Las Vegas PR agency Kirvin Doak Communications that the WNBA and MGM Resorts “will host a joint press conference (on Dec. 11) to reveal exciting new developments about the team’s future”
The Kirvin Doak email about the WNBA/MGM Resorts announcement did not even mention a team name, referring to the WNBA club as simply “the new Las Vegas team.”
The Lights and WNBA’s “new Las Vegas team” are equipped with very different resources to promote their product. Lashbrook has 20 employees working out of an old church on Third Street in downtown Las Vegas, while MGM Resorts International has vast PR and marketing staffs and the company can pour immense resources into promoting its new WNBA property. Maybe that’s why MGM Resorts hasn’t talked with the media about its WNBA team.
So far, it’s a contrast of marketing styles — the mom-and-pop approach of the Lights, which sends workers to First Friday in downtown Las Vegas to spread the word about their brand, and the corporate-run “new Las Vegas team,” which has been MIA so far in the community. Lashbrook is creating a soccer team of the people, while MGM Resorts answers to stockholders.
The media blackout seems strange when you consider the “new Las Vegas team” will need help to attract fans to Mandalay Bay. The WNBA team is entering a rapidly-expanding Las Vegas sports market, though its targeted demographic is expected to be different than that targeted by the Lights.
The Las Vegas public may learn something about the “new Las Vegas team” at the media event set for Monday at 2 p.m. at Mandalay Bay. LVSportsBiz.com will be there and perhaps MGM Resorts will start publicly discussing its new WNBA team.
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