By ALAN SNEL
Inside the huge shadow cast by that new NHL powerhouse team called the Vegas Golden Knights, another new Las Vegas born sports franchise is literally taking its first steps as a new United Soccer League team.
Las Vegas Lights FC is charting a business course very different from the NHL Golden Knights by hitching its business wagon to downtown Las Vegas and an old venue instead of a shiny new arena on the Strip while also consciously highlighting the market’s Hispanic diversity.
Las Vegas Lights owner Brett Lashbrook has an ambitious goal of drawing 10,000 soccer fans to Cashman Field for games starting next month, when the fledgling squad plays three pre-season games against a trio of Major League Soccer teams. Then, the USL — kind of a Triple A soccer league in minor league baseball parlance — starts its season in earnest in March.
Lashbrook has been as enthusiastic a team owner as you will find. And he’s committed to buying into the Las Vegas brand and market by introducing Monday the franchise’s first five players presented to the media specifically because of their Las Vegas roots and connections.
The fivesome stood in front of the Las Vegas Lights brand board, with their families, friends and media all crammed inside the team’s downtown headquarters, which is a former church on 3rd Street.
The five players with the Las Vegas connections on the Lights pre-season roster are midfielder Adolfo Guzman, 21; midfielder Sebastian Hernandez, 24; defender Marco Cesar Jaime, 22; midfielder Julian Portugal, 25; and midfielder Matt Thomas, 22.
The Lights coach is Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, known simply as Chelis and also known for being a colorful, quotable, intense and charismatic character who spent a short stint in the MLS as the manager of Chivas USA for a dozen games before he was fired in 2013. Kind of a Jon Gruden type.
With about 35 people jammed in the building, Chelis spoke in Spanish about each of the five players, offering quips of his trademark honesty.
Lashbrook is counting on the Chelis brand to help sell tickets to Lights games. Chelis is an instant hit with Las Vegas’ Spanish-speaking soccer fans, but he’s learning English and catching up quickly on the language so that he can make fan connections to non-Spanish speaking fans, too.
Lashbrook says playing soccer is a universal language, and while that’s a nice sound bite, Chelis will have to gain a working handle on the English language so that he can sell the team to fans who do not speak Spanish.
Lashbrook said Chelis is picking up English, and he has a “desire to interact with people” in the Las Vegas market. Lashbrook stressed that Las Vegas is a “diverse community and we want to be a leader in highlighting that diversity.”
Lashbrook’s goal is 10,000 fans a game and he told LVSportsBiz.com today he’s pushing 3,000 season ticket holders. The team has been promoting a 20-game, $200 season ticket deal where each contest will cost 10 bucks to get in. Keep in mind, many soccer fans like to walk up and buy tickets for games, which will start at 8 p.m.
The team will also be generating revenues from sponsorships. For example, the Lights have a partnership with Zappos, which has its brand on the front of the team jerseys and shirts. The Lights even cut a deal with Laborers Local 872, which will have its own special union section on the field.
LVSportsBiz.com spoke with Hernandez and Thomas at Lights FC headquarters, and both said the team should be popular in Las Vegas because the franchise can tap into the market’s many soccer leagues, youth teams and fields to tap a pool of ticket buyers.
“The soccer community here is massive,” said Thomas, a Las Vegas native who grew up here.
Added Hernandez, who starred at Bonanza High School and UNLV, “The more the team wins, the more people will follow the team.”
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