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Graney: There’s still a place for Lights in Las Vegas landscape

Brett Lashbrook believes there is still a niche, a need for his Lights team. That as this swiftly grows into a bigger and bigger sports town, soccer remains a viable option for the entertainment dollar.

He’s not wrong. There is a place for it.

Affordable still works for many.

The Lights are in their sixth season playing at Cashman Field, and yet the on-field results certainly haven’t matched the promotional side of the endeavor. They have yet to make the United Soccer League playoffs and reside in last place in the Western Conference this season.

They’re not good right now.

Players want to win. Coaches want to win. But minor league professional sports for fans is often as much about the experience as anything else.

Promoting a sport

I’m certain most fans couldn’t name a third of the starting lineup (if that), but dang it if Cash the Soccer Rocker isn’t the coolest thing going on a motorcycle.

Some attending might not have a clue who is playing on a given night, but they know about those Golden Knights soccer jerseys to be sold Saturday when Tampa Bay visits.

As with Aviators baseball at beautiful Las Vegas Ballpark, the Lights put folks in seats by promoting a sport they love without having to spend Billy’s college fund to watch it.

“We are the most cost affordable, diverse sport offered in this community,” said Lashbrook, owner of the Lights. “We say that unabashedly and proudly. There is a spot for the world’s most popular sport in its most entertaining city.

“We’re friends with the Raiders and Golden Knights and Aviators and Aces and the rest, but there is still a place on Saturday nights for a football game in downtown Las Vegas.”

It’s all about the Knights and their Stanley Cup title around town right now. That, and the defending champion Aces are dominating the WNBA. That, and training camp for the Raiders begins next month.

Landing sponsorships can be a tricky endeavor for a team such as the Lights. Competition is fierce with each arriving team and those already here. It’s more an uphill battle than securing a win nowadays.

But it’s also true Major League Soccer recently awarded San Diego its 30th franchise over Las Vegas. The fact that Southern Nevada was so close in the running also defines the level of soccer interest in these parts.

The game at some of its highest levels has shown an ability to draw in the valley — see the 65,000 that packed Allegiant Stadium for a CONCACAF Nations League semifinal between the United States and Mexico recently.

Soccer at smaller levels can also feature a pretty consistent fan base.

The Lights draw an average of about 6,000 fans, obviously nothing that will create headlines. But their owner is correct in supporting the diversity of crowds. That matters. So do tickets with the lowest prices ranging from $15 to $20.

“We’ve never turned anyone away,” Lashbrook said. “If groups come, we always find a way to get them into the building. Kids run on the fields, kick soccer balls, do promotions, get autographs. There’s always going to be a role for a team like the Lights across the city, no matter how many major league teams come.”

More home games

It has been a slow rollout this season, given the Lights have played just three of 17 games at home while the Vipers took over Cashman Field during their inaugural XFL season. But there are nine home games in July and August, when Lashbrook hopes the team’s record can improve enough to make a playoff push.

It’s a (really) long ways up the standings.

Lashbrook says his is a 15-year lease at Cashman Field. He doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

“We are here for the long run,” he said. “I’m all-in. We absolutely believe this is a great city for soccer and that there is a place for us.”

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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