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Foam parties and farm animals: USL Championship teams launch outlandish promotions

Farm animals frolic inside a goal Thursday, April 11, while Austin Bold FC owner Bobby Epstein holds a chicken as he talks with reporters about the team's upcoming match and 4-H promotion. (Photo courtesy Austin Bold FC)

AUSTIN, Texas — As promotions go, it may not get more urban or rural as it will the next week for the USL Championship. 

In what promises to be two of the most original promotions in North American soccer this year — regardless of what other teams might concoct in the coming months — Las Vegas Lights FC plans to celebrate the official soccer-specific status of their stadium with a pitchside foam party Saturday night and Austin Bold FC heralds its only nationally-televised appearance of the year Wednesday by inviting fans to bring their own farm animals to the match. 

Outside-the-box promotions have been a hallmark of the Las Vegas Lights since the team launched last year. In their inaugural season, the Lights let 200 fans onto the field for a $5,000 helicopter cash drop, gave away luchador wrestling masks to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and partnered with sports book company William Hill to allow in-game betting on Lights matches via a phone app. It’s all part of Lights owner Brett Lashbrook’s guiding principle of pushing the envelope in the name of fun, and he’s picking up where he left off last season.

In 2019, they’ll celebrate Cinco de Mayo by giving away capes — Lashbrook joked, “We’re giving away entire wrestling outfits a year at a time” — and “doubling” the helicopter promotion bounty by adding $5,000 in free casino play to the $5,000 in American currency.

The foam party will utilize what used to be the left field bullpen at baseball-turned-soccer stadium Cashman Field, which the Lights made more their own last week by cutting down the foul poles to allow for fully unobstructed views.

Lashbrook said 100 fans at a time will be allowed in the 50-by-50 feet foam zone during opening kickoff and at 10-minute intervals throughout the match. They’ll be free to move to music from the team’s resident DJ Ocho, or just watch the action while being buffeted with bubbles. When 10 minutes is up, staffers will blow a horn, cycle revelers out to let new fans in and fire up the machines to pump in more bubbles. 

“I’m a big believer that sports is entertainment,” Lashbrook said. “And we take our soccer very seriously in those 90 minutes, with coach [Eric] Wynalda and everything else. But it’s also Saturday night in downtown Las Vegas, and that in and of itself should make everyone smile.”

“It is literally right down on the field,” Lashbrook added, laughing. “When I was talking to Wynalda about it, he was like, ‘I’m going to tell the guys to jump in there when they score a goal!'” 

Two Lights staffers will don Ghostbusters outfits and carry leaf vacuums in case winds direct the foam away from the party and toward the field — adding to a in-game atmosphere that also includes a hype man striding the sidelines with a microphone. 

The new team in Austin, meanwhile, created its first-ever promotion — if you don’t count the opening of the new 5,036-seat stadium on the Circuit of the Americas grounds March 30 – from an internal brainstorming session. 

While discussing how to attract students and staffers from neighboring Del Valle Independent School District, a “Farmer in the Del Valle” pun by COTA director of administration Melanie Jinks led to discussions about the district’s 4-H group. That talk mushroomed into a threefold concept: Free admission for each fan who brings in a chick, duck, goose, goat, cow, pig, turkey, sheep, horse, llama or donkey; a portion of ticket sales donated to the local 4-Hers; and a free cowbell for each of the first 100 fans through the gate. 

“It’s not a petting zoo,” Bold general manager Roberto Pinto da Silva cautioned, but he also said the animals will be on display for fans. The 4-H members will look after the animals in an enclosure created in partnership with the Austin Rodeo.

It’s not the COTA team’s first foray into animal attractions. According to Silva, camel rides are part of COTA’s annual Winter Wonderland event, and camels live on the grounds for seven weeks for that. But it has brought some viral attention to the new franchise, with BBC Sport among those taking to Twitter to highlight the promotion.

When asked if the attention has surprised Silva, he said, “Yes and no,” adding, “We have some other things that I think are going to be viral in the future. We want to have fun and entertain people. Some might go wrong and some will go well, and I think, so far, this is going very well.” 

On Thursday, the Bold invited media to see some animals — a few decked out in fresh-out-of-the-box scarves — frolic inside one of the goals. Franchise owner Bobby Epstein, wearing a T-shirt repping Del Valle, held an impromptu media session while holding a chicken. 

The 4-H group will also bring animals to the match for display just in case fans don’t contribute to the menagerie, but the club already is getting inquiries, according to Silva, who said, “Some people are calling asking where they can park their trailers.” 

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