Monday, Feb. 4, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Lights coach Eric Wynalda started listing the countries from which his squad has players, raving about their international flair and praising them for coming together to embrace Las Vegas.
Wynalda lived here for more than a decade before becoming the Lights’ coach ahead of their second season, which started Saturday with a 5-1 exhibition game win against Toronto of Major League Soccer. He proudly says the Lights are an extension of the town’s diversity.
“Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Congo, Cameroon. We have it all,” Wynalda said Friday morning while speaking at a Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce breakfast. “We are your team.”
He’s right: In Las Vegas, everyone has a different background and a different story to tell. And many of us have a passion for soccer, something the Lights are capitalizing on.
Las Vegas Lights owner Brett Lashbrook wants game days at Cashman Field to feel like they would in Mexico City, Buenos Aires or London.
In the squad’s initial season last year, an informal survey found about 48 percent of fans were multicultural and spoke at least two languages, Lashbrook said.
The first season saw about 7,000 fans per game, which was slightly more than Lashbrook expected and a testament to the community.
While much of the team’s fan base is Hispanic, its reach is deeper — from the hipster who calls downtown home to the suburban soccer mom, Lashbrook said. That’s why having a player from Cameroon, for instance, is vital to bringing out another demographic of fan.
And that’s something that has resonated with leaders of the Latin Chamber, whose offices are also downtown. Chamber President Peter Guzman and Lashbrook met earlier in the Lights’ launch into the market, starting a relationship that appears to be a win-win, especially considering the team’s reach with Hispanics.
“Brett hasn’t chosen a side. He wants all groups and clubs to be involved,” said Daniel Tafoya, the chamber’s chairman of the board. “He wants everyone to feel like they are a part of the team. He made it for everyone.”
Lashbrook, to his credit, has sold supporters on having allegiances to more than one club — a team outside of the U.S, say in the Liga MX, as well as the hometown Lights. They, after all, wouldn’t compete against each other.
Of all the inventive ideas Lashbrook and his team rolled out to attract fans — such as the parking lot festivals on game day or players taking the field in the pregame accompanied by llamas — Lashbrook’s most genius move was realizing his team didn’t have to be a supporter’s favorite. The supporter simply had to be entertained and eager to spend another night at Cashman Field.
Along the way, he made tickets affordable, starting with a season package of 20 games for $200, or as he told the breakfast group, “the best deal in town since $4.99 prime rib.”
The Lights finished in third-to-last place out of 17 teams in their debut season, but Wynalda said he senses the second year will be much different.
If they exceeded expectations with fans in a losing season, imagine the buy-in once the Lights start winning. Remember, Las Vegas loves a winner — just ask the Runnin’ Rebels.
“We are going to surprise some people,” Wynalda told the group.