In our changing world, new entertainment endeavors come and go. Here today, gone tomorrow. First impressions matter. And you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
So what would constitute a successful first season for the Lexington Sporting Club?
“That’s a great question and probably not one that we’ve thought a lot about, to be honest,” Vince Gabbert said.
He’s been much too busy. Last June, Gabbert left his administrative post at Keeneland after 10 years to be the vice president of LSC. Over the past nine months, he’s been consumed with the details of starting a startup.
“We’ve been so focused on so many different things between the youth club and trying to find a location for the stadium and the fields for the club out of Athens-Boonesboro and all that,” he said. “In some ways, I think we’ve already had a good success just by getting started and building what we have from the ground up.”
The goal is to build something that lasts. An expansion team in USL League One, LSC needs a first year that instills confidence in the community and area that it is here for the long haul.
“Ultimately, we want to be in the playoffs,” Gabbert said. “Even though we are an expansion franchise, success for us begins and ends on the field itself. But the fan support, what we’ve done with season ticket sales with the club, getting integrated with the youth club, I think we’ve had a ton of successes already, but we want to win. There’s no question about that.”
Maybe more important is the competition off the field, however. LSC must entice soccer fans and curiosity seekers alike to not just check out the team but also the entire fan experience, an atmosphere often described as different from other sports.
“(Attendance) is important,” Gabbert said. “I think it’s important for a couple of reasons. We want to make a great impression. We think we’re going to put a really good product on the field for people to enjoy. The people that I’m close to that have season tickets to FC Cincinnati or Lou City all say it’s some of the best experiences and its the best couple of hours they spend each week.”
After talk of playing at the University of Kentucky until a new soccer stadium was built, LSC will instead play its first season at Georgetown College. Gabbert sees that as more of an opportunity than a setback.
“(Owner Bill Shively) is intent on making it a true family affair and making it family friendly. We’re gonna do that. And in some ways we may benefit from atmosphere and doing some of the things we want to try by being at Georgetown College for the first year,” he said. “It gives us more capacity, but it also allows us to integrate into the town maybe a little more than we would have had we been in a temporary location here in Lexington.”
An initial proposal for a downtown site was scrapped in favor of a youth club facility and 6,500-seat LSC stadium in the Athens-Boonesboro area near I-75. In January, the zoning commission approved a conditional use permit for the facility.
To Shively and Gabbert, the youth club component is the foundation.
“I mean it’s the impetus for the whole thing,” Gabbert said. “From my first conversations with Bill about this project — I’ve been fortunate enough to know the Shivelys for a lot of years through the horse racing connection — even from my beginning conversations for this project with Bill, it has all been about the youth club. It’s been the fact that we don’t have the facilities we need in Lexington to support the demand for soccer.”
Still, what will ultimately make-or-break LSC is word-of-mouth.
At both the youth and club level, those who participate as a player or parent or fan will be the ultimate judges. Is this being done professionally? Is it enjoyable? Is it affordable? Does it have the look and feel of something sustainable?
In its first year, LSC needs to win over its customers more than it needs to win against its competitors.