Despite the clouded history of professional sports in Santa Barbara, Peter Moore sees nothing but bright skies for the United Soccer League club he is launching, to begin play in 2024.
“I’ve lived [in the U.S.] 40 years, and soccer is on fire now in a way I’ve never seen,” Moore said in an interview before the public unveiling of his plans this week. “Whether it’s the Premier League on Saturdays, freaking Ted Lasso, everything else that has brought the game into focus … I’ve never seen anything more potent, more powerful and more right for it finally becoming something that every American kid wants to play.”
The club’s name, Santa Barbara Sky FC, is revealing in itself.
“We will be a Football Club,” Moore said. “We think everybody understands football in the global sense now.”
The timing of his venture is vastly superior to conditions in 1977 and 1990, when previous attempts to establish pro soccer in town fizzled out. Besides, the word “failure” does not appear to be in Moore’s vocabulary.
A native of Liverpool, England, the 67-year-old Moore built an impressive résumé as an executive at Reebok, Sega, Microsoft, and Electronic Arts. In 2017, he returned to his hometown to become CEO of Liverpool Football Club, one of the world’s foremost sides. During his tenure, Liverpool won the UEFA Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup and the Premier League.
After concluding his contract with Liverpool, Moore and his wife, Debbie, settled in a home in Montecito in December of 2020. He recalled that his first visit to Santa Barbara had come early in his business career.
“I was coaching soccer and getting a Masters at Long Beach State,” he said. “I got a job with a company called Patrick, which made great football boots at the time. I roll into town, go to a phone box, find the yellow pages, go to sporting goods, and there’s Copeland Sports on State Street. They placed a small order, and it all went. Then I got UCSB to wear Patrick gear.”
Upon his return to Santa Barbara decades later, Moore landed another job as a high-tech executive with Unity Technologies. He became acquainted with several local soccer aficionados and was prompted to investigate the possibility of landing an expansion club in the USL. He attended the league’s winter meetings and became convinced it was building a solid multi-level organization like the divisions of English football layered below the Premier League — Major League Soccer being the U.S. equivalent of the Premier League. The USL’s clubs also include women’s teams.
Moore decided to become a founding investor and applied his organizational skills to make Santa Barbara Sky FC a reality. “We are not a fly-by-night organization in any sense,” he said. “I’m used to building multi-billion-dollar businesses. We’ve gone from zero to a fully-fledged club in seven months.” He was ready to unveil the club’s crest (featuring an image of St. Barbara and a color scheme of midnight blue and terra cotta) and merchandise this week. He has plans to form a Sky FC charitable foundation, much like his own foundation in Liverpool, which supports a food bank and cancer hospital.
When the Sky FC takes to the pitch at SBCC’s La Playa Stadium in March of 2024, it will be the first “true West Coast team” in the USL’s League One, which currently has 11 clubs spread from Fresno to Madison, WI, and Statesboro, GA.
Sign up for Indy Today to receive fresh news from Independent.com, in your inbox, every morning.
Moore expects League One to comprise 30 teams in 2024 as the USL, founded in 2010, continues to grow. “The moment the World Cup ends in Qatar this winter, everything moves to North America [site of the 2026 World Cup],” Moore said, “and the game is going to explode in this country.”
Previous attempts to bring pro soccer to Santa Barbara did not go so well. In 1977, the erstwhile American Soccer League — whose president was basketball icon Bob Cousy – tried to expand west with the Santa Barbara Condors. The club imported half a dozen English players, including former Liverpool captain Ron Yeats, and opened the season with much fanfare at the San Marcos High stadium. But the Condors were grossly underfinanced. After going weeks without paychecks, the players were fed up, and the team disbanded halfway through the season. Moore himself had played for the ASL’s Cleveland Cobras and recalled, “It was very much an immigrant game.”
Real Santa Barbara was a club started in 1989 with a homegrown roster and a coach from Moldavia. In 1990, it was among 24 inaugural members of the American Professional Soccer League, which was trying to establish itself as the nation’s premier soccer league. But the Santa Barbara market proved too small to meet the league’s ambitions, and Real became a noble failure. Tim Vom Steeg played for Real. “It paid for my graduate school,” said Vom Steeg, the longtime coach of the UCSB men’s soccer team.
Vom Steeg agrees with Moore that the growth of the sport in this country creates a positive outlook for Sky FC. Pointing to crowds of 10,000 or more who have attended UCSB’s games against the likes of Stanford and UCLA, he said, “It’s not just about soccer, it’s the entertainment of going to a cool event. We play in the fall at UCSB. [Sky FC] will provide entertainment options for families in the spring and summer.”
Here are some other pro sports that have come and gone in Santa Barbara:
BASKETBALL: The Santa Barbara Islanders were Western Division champions of the Continental Basketball League in 1990, but that was their only season. Financial troubles forced them to wind up playing in Ventura; their rental payments at SBCC were in default. Taking dubious turns as the club’s owners were the late Howard Schneider, who was jailed for fraud in another matter, and Craig Case, currently charged with various improprieties.
VOLLEYBALL: The Santa Barbara Spikers were a founding team in the International Volleyball Association and won the league’s championship in 1978. But the entire IVA fell apart after five seasons in 1980.
BASEBALL: The Santa Barbara Rancheros (1962-63), a New York Mets farm club, gave way to the Santa Barbara Dodgers, who lasted through 1967 but suffered low attendance and were moved to Bakersfield. They played in Laguna Park, which was demolished in 1970.
The Santa Barbara Foresters, now playing their 42nd consecutive season of pre-professional summer baseball, have been a smashing success by comparison. They have survived because of community involvement — including host families that provide room and board for players – and the passion of longtime manager Bill Pintard. In memory of his son Eric, who lost his life to cancer, Pintard’s Foresters have made hospital visits and provided activities for children with cancer.
Peter Moore is astute in recognizing that the Santa Barbara Sky FC’s prospects for success will rely on that sort of wholesome engagement with the community.