Brett Lashbrook believes he has found something special at Cashman Field. The owner of Las Vegas’ newest professional sports team, Las Vegas Lights Football Club, is more than happy to move his United Soccer League team into the stadium the Las Vegas 51s baseball team has for years tried to ditch.
For Lashbrook, the 34-year-old stadium is perfectly situated for soccer, right in the heart of the city near downtown.
Before the Lights arrived, Las Vegas was the second-largest city in the country without a professional soccer team, and Lashbrook thinks there’s a massive, untapped fan base. He hopes to deliver an authentic experience to soccer-starved fans in Southern Nevada when the season starts in February.
Lashbrook spoke with The Sunday about the Lights and the future of soccer in Las Vegas.
Why is soccer growing so quickly in the United States?
I always answer that by saying the rest of the world can’t be wrong. We are finally catching up. With the diversity of the United States in 2017, much less right here in downtown Las Vegas and throughout Clark County, it was only a matter of time for soccer to take off.
With numbers dropping for youth in high school football, do you think that helps the popularity of soccer in the U.S.?
I think the popularity of soccer can be pointed to a lot of things. That may be part of it, but that’s not the driver of the continued, steady increase of interest in the sport. It hasn’t just been an increase in the number of kids playing soccer over the past three decades, but also the number of people watching it, following it. People are aware of the World Cup, the national team, Major League Soccer and right down to the UNLV soccer team that’s having so much success.
With the U.S. not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, it’s obviously not good for the overall momentum of soccer, but do you see that affecting you or the Las Vegas Lights FC?
Anyone who follows the team or is a fan of the team here in the United States is obviously bitterly disappointed. There are a lot of big countries that have missed the World Cup — including Germany many years ago, (but) they created a 10- to 15-year plan and came back and won the World Cup.
As it has sunk in over the past couple weeks that we won’t be playing in the World Cup next summer, I am more and more convinced that the leaders of the sport are going to make the proper investments, decisions and strategic forethought to make sure that this never happens again.
I think growing the game across the U.S. and Canada, which is what we are trying to do here in Las Vegas, is part of that solution.
Of course we’re disappointed, but do I think people won’t come to our games next summer? No I don’t.
Now that it’s a little more real with a team, a logo and workers at Cashman Field taking measurements for the soccer field, how exciting is this for you?
It’s been incredibly exciting to start something with an idea, see it grow into a piece of paper and then grow into life. To see the office growing, the phones ringing with ticket sales, and talking to the soccer community, everyone has been so supportive of us.
It’s just so clear that it’s been long overdue. We are going to provide something that’s completely different from other, more traditional American sports experiences. That doesn’t mean it’s better or worse, but I want to give people an authentic soccer experience.
You’ve accomplished a lot in soccer, from working with the commissioner of Major League Soccer to helping transition a USL team in Orlando, Fla., into an MLS team with a new stadium, but how different is it this time since the team is yours?
This is more special to me because Las Vegas is home. It’s been home for my family for 20-plus years. Anyone who is in business knows that when it’s your name and your money, there is a whole other level of personal connection to the project.
The experiences I’ve had working at Major League Soccer for the commissioner and as the chief operating officer for Orlando City Soccer Club have all kind of led to this moment. I feel incredibly grateful and also incredibly prepared, but yes, this is the most special.
This is the one that has my family’s name on it. This is the one where my mom will be coming to the games. This is the one that’s representing us, and this is our home.