When you think Las Vegas, what comes to mind? Is it the shows? The dancing and nightlife? The gambling? Chances are, it’s one of those things, and if the Las Vegas Lights Football Club has their way, those things will be associated with them as well.
The 33rd team to be added to the USL, the Lights aren’t living in the shadow cast on them by one of the entertainment capitals of the world, they are embracing it.
To understand how the Lights came to be and how their identity was formed, we have to take a look at what turned out to be the perfect storm that landed the team in the city.
The Team’s Birth
Team owner & CEO Brett Lashbrook had spent the past 20 years of his life working in the beautiful game in some regard. Whether it was the time he spent as part of Orlando City’s leadership team or as the Legal Counsel and Special Assistant for the MLS, he had seen and been a part of numerous expansion teams, learning the ins and outs of what it takes to run a team along the way.
Although Lashbrook, who is from Vegas, had to come back to the city under unfortunate circumstances, his six month stay turned into him now being there for close to three years and owning his own USL team.
“In 2015, I came back to Vegas to spend time with my mother who was sick at the time. I thought I would only end up staying 6 months,” said Lashbrook. “40 years old at the time, single, and very fortunate that my family had some capital, I quickly realized that Las Vegas is home now. It also just happened to be the second largest city in the world without a professional soccer team.”
After deciding that Vegas was the prime place to add a USL team, Lashbrook turned his attention to finding a stadium. Whether it was sheer luck or just perfect timing, Cashman Field, the stadium in which the Las Vegas 51s, a Triple-A affiliate of the Mets, play, was available and also happened to be built in the shape of the square.
With another year to go before the 51s leave Cashman Field for their new $150 million dollar stadium, the two teams share the stadium, something that Lashbrook can live with for now given the fact the team has no capital caught up into building their own.
“I found out there was a 10,000 seat stadium in downtown that, although it was a baseball field, its stands were built in the shape of a square. All 10,000 seats are right on the pitch and the team is going to go out to the suburbs and build a new stadium, so what is going to happen to this stadium.”
From there, all it took was getting the local leaders from the city involved and behind the project, and, by August 11th, 2017, the Las Vegas franchise was born.
“This all came together very quickly given the fact that we had the capital, we had the stadium, we had the location, and we had the support of the mayor,” said Lashbrook “From city hall, to the businesses, to the fans, the response has been fantastic.”
Less than a year later the Lights have a brand identity, one of the best jerseys in sports, and some of the most unique promotions that make the club distinctly Vegas.
The Name and Crest
After announcing that a team would be coming to Vegas, Lashbrook gave fans the opportunity to choose the name of the team.
1,000 submissions and few good chuckles later, Lashbrook had a decision to make.
“We opened up the name to submissions and we got 1,000 submissions,” said Lashbrook. “Some of them were fantastic, some of them were awful, some of them were inappropriate, and some of them were wonderfully inappropriate.”
Lashbrook and his team then paired the 1,000 submissions to a final six, at which time the fans voted on which would become the winner.
“We narrowed it down to six names and then had over 10,000 people vote online,” mentioned Lashbrook. “We had it as a weighted vote and ‘Lights’ barely beat out ‘Las Vegas FC’ and you could tell by the way people were voting whether they were more Americanized, or very traditional.”
Since the voting was so close, he decided to combine the two and the Las Vegas Lights FC was born.
Pleased by how the naming process came out, he again turned to the fans to deliver inspiration for the crest
“The fans did such a good job that we then reached out to crowdsource design inspirations from them for the logo,” said Lashbrook. “We had over 400 people submit anything from colors and shapes to sizes and elements.”
It’s this diversity in submissions that he credits to a design that not only screamed Las Vegas, but is completely unique.
“There are multiple things on the logo we would have never gotten if we had gone to an agency.” – Brett Lashbrook
From the colors down to the shape of the crest, Lashbrook was able to draw inspiration from many of the submissions that he received.
“I originally didn’t want a crest, then three fans submitted design inspirations that had the Las Vegas sign tilted 90 degrees with the idea of that shape being the crest. We now have this traditional crest, but no one has our shape.”
When it comes to colors, being in the city that they are in, the Lights were able to go bold in homage to Las Vegas.
“On the colors, we did shock blue, shock yellow, and shock pink,” said Lashbrook “One, because there aren’t too many cities who can get away with pink, and those are also the official colors of the city of Las Vegas.”
There are teams who use the opinions of fans to help them pick alternative logos and uniforms, but for the main crest and colorway, this was unprecedented. For Lashbrook, that’s exactly how he wanted it to be.
“The whole idea was to build this by the people, through the people, and for the people, while including them in every step of the way.”
Zappos and The Plaza
No team is complete without corporate partners, and now that Lashbrook had a stadium, a crest, and a colorway, it was time to set out to find the brand that would adorn the Lights’ new jersey.
“We wanted to find a hyperlocal company that we thought represented us the best.” – Brett Lashbrook
In order to find that hyperlocal company, Lashbrook created a list of traits for a company that would match what they were looking for. The company that came out on top? Zappos.
“We finally got the meeting and went and sat with them, gave them our vision, told them what we were trying to do, showed them this portion of the market, gave them these ideas and said we want to embrace being different and weird,” said Lashbrook “It was one of those meetings where it just clicked.”
“It has been a wonderful partnership. It’s multiyear and they wanted to grow their soccer business. I couldn’t think of a better partner. You need these types of partners, especially when you are starting.” – Brett Lashbrook
With a new partner to adorn their jersey on a multi-year deal, Lashbrook then turned his attention to the next most important part of having a team, having an actual jersey to wear.
After locking down BLK, a uniform provider out of the UK that gave the team flexibility in terms of what their jersey would look like, how many colors they could use, and what could be on it, Lashbrook turned back to Zappos for design inspiration.
Luckily, he was met with a designer who told him the only thing he liked more than soccer, was soccer jerseys.
“We started brainstorming and then when we wanted to make it even more different, we looked to the goal celebrations and that’s when the smiley face idea came up in a way that could pay homage to Zappos and that the fans would interact with,” said Lashbrook in regards to the smiley face that is placed on the reverse side of the jersey.
“We want to have an authentic international soccer experience where there are no t-shirt guns, no cheerleaders, no scoreboards that tell people when to clap, but we also want to embrace that we are Vegas.” – Brett Lashbrook
Just when you thought things couldn’t get wilder than a smiley face emoji on a soccer jersey, the Lights turned to the Plaza to deliver one of the best promotional activations in 2018, a $30,000 3-win goal bonus.
“The genesis of the idea with the chips came from my time at MLS and having heard many ideas behind these per game win bonuses,” said Lashbrook when mentioning how the two parties came up with the idea. “There is something special when there is real money on the line and you can pay the guys in the locker room.”
Instead of winning real money, for every game the Lights win this year by 3 goals or more, each player who participated in the match will be rewarded on the field with $100 in $1 Plaza Hotel chips, with the Plaza placing up to $30,000 in chips at stake for players to earn over the course of the 2018 campaign.
“We have made this very bombastic brand promise of being high-scoring, exciting team, where we win games 5-4 and not 1-0. I didn’t want to just do a per win bonus, I wanted to do a per win bonus that happened because we won with style. As we were brainstorming with The Plaza, we decided to do a win bonus, but with casino chips and showgirls to put a little Vegas flair into the activation.”
With still two weeks to go until their regular season opener, the Lights are reveling in their spot amongst the Vegas sports and entertainment scene.
“Our value proposition is we can’t out Golden Knights the Golden Knights, we can’t out Raiders the Raiders, but we can provide something that is unique to the market in the marching, the drumming, the chants, the smoke that comes with soccer, said Lashbrook. “You put that by the casinos, the bars, the restaurants and everything of downtown, that’s our secret sauce.”
You might see the Lights as fun, you might see them as different, but whatever you see them as, chances are, that’s exactly how they want you to feel.