The Las Vegas Lights CEO says the citys swagger and Hispanic population can make his club into a success story in the Nevada desert
Theres not much of a soccer legacy in Las Vegas. The extent of it is the Quicksilvers, the itinerant team that only lasted for one NASL season in 1977. They had been the Baltimore Comets before transferring cross-country and becoming the magnificently-named San Diego Jaws. Then came the move to Nevada before they eventually returned to San Diego as the Sockers. It was all very Spinal Tap.
That solitary campaign in the desert was astoundingly underwhelming, notable only for the presence of an aged Eusebio in the Quicksilvers attack, his chronic knee problems ensuring he was little more than another faded Vegas attraction.
Still, its the lack of a soccer past thats helping fuel the citys latest attempt at developing and maintaining a professional team.
We have no history, says Brett Lashbrook, owner and CEO of the Las Vegas Lights. We have a blank sheet of paper. In other countries, you dont start new teams. For better or worse, youre handcuffed by 100 years of history. Its taking advantage of what we have over so many other teams around the world.
This is the Lights first year of operation and the process has been radical. Plying their trade in the United Soccer League (USL), effectively the second-tier in the North American pyramid, theyve certainly stood out.
Before the season started, a partnership with the Plaza Hotel was unveiled: each player would receive $100 in casino chips if the team scored three or more goals at home. Then, in April, the club announced a sponsorship with Nuwu Cannabis Marketplace, a local marijuana dispensary.
But its on game-day when everything gets ramped up a notch. Inside the dressing room, theres a live DJ entertaining the players and staff. A pair of llamas – Dolly and Dotty pose for pre-game photos and act as unofficial mascots. Before the season opener in March, one of the animals used the field as its own personal bathroom. The teams actual mascot is Cash the Soccer Rocker, described previously by Lashbrook as a Hispanic Elvis Presley, with a little Johnny Cash, driving on a Harley Davidson.
Inevitably, there were dissenting voices, those who claimed the project is all just one big marketing gimmick. Earlier this year, Lashbrook poured more petrol on the flames by confirming the Lights were keen on signing Usain Bolt (the sprinter is now attempting to start his soccer career in Australia).
We hear the sniggers. I get it. But bring it on, says Lashbrook. Were not running from it. Were not afraid of it. Its good to have teams that are different. Whether you love us or hate us, were going to make you smile at some point. Youre going to want to tune in and see whats next. You know when you come to Vegas that youre in for a show and were going to do things differently.
The Lights are attempting to capitalize on an inexplicable purple patch for the citys previously non-existent relationship with pro sports. The citys biggest success story in 2018 was the Vegas Golden Knights and their run to the Stanley Cup finals. But for much of the NHL season, some critics flippantly dismissed the expansion side as a gimmick and waited for the collapse.
Lashbrook wants something similar for the Lights.
Im an incredibly big believer that sports is also entertainment, he says. Vegas is 24/7, fast-paced, sexy, glitzy, a little gaudy, a little kitschy. And were fine with that. Theres no one in Las Vegas thats embarrassed by Las Vegas. So weve found a way to have a swagger that you just cant get in any other American city. And we think thats our x-factor and were proud of it. Im from Kansas City they couldnt pull off what were doing here.
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