During its two-year history in Las Vegas, the Lights FC United Soccer League franchise has made it a point to celebrate diversity.
In fact, Brett Lashbrook says it’s part of the club’s business model. Lashbrook is the team’s brash young owner who uses “viva Lights” to sign off following conversations.
“We’re trying to bring all cultures together,” Lashbrook said. “We have the non-Hispanic Henderson and Summerlin crowd right next to the Downtown millennials, next to the working-class Hispanics from North Las Vegas. I know that’s a generalization, but anyone who goes to our games knows that’s our mix.”
During a Saturday-night match in April at Cashman Field, the Lights’ rainbow coalition was out in force, nearly 8,000 deep. From all age ranges, cultural and racial demographics and socioeconomic classes, fans came together to cheer Las Vegas to a 5-0 victory against Tacoma.
With soccer being an internationally popular sport, it’s not surprising that crowds in the U.S. and in Las Vegas are diverse. What is new, however, is that the Lights are trying to make their concession offerings diverse as well, recently signing a deal with Novamex, the company that bottles the popular Hispanic soft drink brand Jarritos.
At Lights matches, fans won’t find Coca-Cola, Pepsi or Dr Pepper products, but they can purchase a Jarritos.
“Coke, Pepsi and, to a lesser degree, Dr Pepper and 7Up, they have a stranglehold on venues in our country,” Lashbrook said. “A lot of that is because that’s the way it’s always been. Jarritos is incredibly big in Mexico and Central America. Novamex wants to get into the gringo market.”
Not even Minor League Baseball—with its 256 teams—has reached beyond traditional American soda brands at its ballparks despite its surge of Latino players in recent decades, according to Jeff Lantz, senior communications director for MiLB.
Lashbrook said the opportunity to sign Jarritos surfaced this season after the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority agreed to turn over operation of Cashman Field to the city upon the Aviators’ move to their new Summerlin stadium. Officially, the LVCVA relinquishes control of Cashman Field on May 10.
“I don’t want to make this political, but I love the idea that we’re taking something from the Hispanic culture and pushing it the other way, not just pushing the traditional American sports culture on the Hispanic market,” Lashbrook said.
Fans at Lights matches can also grab a michelada (a traditional Mexican alcoholic drink), a beer slushie or a non-THC Two Roots Brewing Co. cannabis beer. And before matches, attendees can spend time at the “Zappos Tailgate” outside Cashman Field, a pregame party that features games for kids, a live DJ and various food truck options thatchange for each game.
The team also plans to brand its own “official Lights FC tortilla chip,” Lashbrook said.
Being different, Lashbrook said, is in the Lights’ DNA. For example, the team uses a “hype” man, local radio personality Bojo Ackah, instead of a public address announcer. Walking the sidelines before kickoff the night the Lights beat Tacoma, Ackah asked fans if they were ready for a “soccer fiesta.”
The soccer fiesta included the always-boisterous Supporters Section and a large-scale foam party on the sideline for kids.
First-time Lights match attendee Miguel Hidalgo, a coach who brought along members of his youth girls soccer team, said it was a good atmosphere for soccer even though Cashman Field wasn’t initially made for it.
Another first-timer, David Okashige, brought his young family with kids aged 6, 4 and 2. He said it likely wouldn’t be the last time they came out for a match.
“When you come to Cashman Field, it’s a little slice of Mexico City, London and Barcelona,” Lashbrook said. “We have an international soccer feel and now we have some food and beverage choices that are really unique, but also representative of where our fan base is from.”