Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

Sacramento Capitals Mark Knowles serves against the Kansas City Explorers on July 12, 2012 in Sacramento.

After 28 seasons, Sacramento Capitals moving to Las Vegas

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 - 1:20 pm

They built a loyal following in 28 seasons in Sacramento, but shortcomings at their home arena have prompted them to move to Las Vegas.

No, they’re not the Kings.

The Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis called it a match Tuesday, saying they would leave town after a lengthy run that included six league championships but plenty of financial turmoil, especially in recent seasons. The team has been renamed the Las Vegas Neon.

Team and league officials cited dissatisfaction with the Capitals’ stadium, a temporary facility on the parking lot of Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights. In Las Vegas, the Neon will play in a permanent 3,000-seat stadium about 11 miles off the Strip.

While the Capitals weren’t a high-profile institution in the Sacramento sports scene – the team drew around 1,400 fans a game in its final season– community leaders said they’ll be missed.

“It’s certainly a loss, whenever you have a professional sports team (leave),” said Mike Testa of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which oversees the Sacramento Sports Commission.

The Capitals’ departure comes as Sacramento officials try to cement the Kings’ long-term future after several anxious seasons in which the NBA team considered relocating to Las Vegas, among other places, in search of a better arena. Last spring, the NBA vetoed a proposed relocation to Seattle and gave the Kings’ new owners until 2017 to build a new arena or risk losing the team to another city. The arena is scheduled to open in 2016 but faces legal and political challenges. The Kings are playing in their 29th season in Sacramento.

During their 28 years in Sacramento, the Capitals played in a variety of locations, including the inaugural season at the orginal Arco Arena. Since 2001, they’ve played at mall parking lots– first at Sunrise, then at the Roseville Galleria and then back at the 2,000-seat Sunrise venue the past three seasons.

While the Kings’ near move to Seattle set off a months-long melodrama, the Capitals’ move was quickly a done deal, blessed by league officials. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman held a press conference Tuesday welcoming the Neon, while officials with Sunrise Mall and the city of Citrus Heights said they were given no advance notice that a move was pending.

“I’m not aware of anyone contacting the city,” said City Manager Henry Tingle. “These things happen. Pro teams move around.”

In their final season, the Capitals played to a 5-9 won-lost record, last in the WTT’s Western Conference. Their attendance was “in the bottom third” of the league, said WTT spokeswoman Rosie Crews.

Sarah Wannakuwatte, daughter of team owner Deepal Wannakuwatte, said it was the team’s inability to find a permanent stadium in Sacramento that prompted the move.

“The attendance was great. … It was really the permanent home we were looking for,” she said.

Said RameyOsborne, a former team owner: “It’s very, very costly to put together a temporary facility, and location is very important. They had an offer they couldn’t refuse.”

The team’s general manager Kolleen McNamee, who is making the transition to Las Vegas, said the team is trying to put together travel and hotel packages for Sacramentans who want to go to games in the team’s new home. “We do value and want to thank our loyal supporters.”

Sacramentans who followed the team expressed unhappiness with the Capitals’ departure.

“It’s terrible,” said David Barzaga, 39. “Sacramento is a very strong tennis community. … Everybody I know, one time or another, went to a Caps game.”

Former co-owner Ben Combs said the Capitals often struggled financially, and keeping them going in Sacramento was generally a labor of love. “It wasn’t easy, it was grass-roots, it was a lot of work,” he said.

The move to Las Vegas caps several tumultuous years for the Capitals. In 2010, a sheriff’s deputy confiscated box-office receipts to satisfy a court judgment against the Capitals and a former co-owner, Lonnie Nielson, who later pleaded guilty to grand theft charges. The league briefly kicked the Capitals out of the league during the offseason over a “morals clause,” but reversed its decision in time for the 2011 season.

After the 2011 season ended, the team nearly folded after another former owner, Bob Cook, filed for bankruptcy protection. The team was rescued by Osborne, who took over and then brought the Wannakuwatte family into the fold. The Wannakuwattes, who own a medical and dental supply business in the area, have owned the Capitals for the last two years.

In terms of stature and culture, team tennis has little in common with the major tournaments. Founded by Billie Jean King, the league features co-ed teams, multi-colored courts and raucous crowds. Since 2012 the entire league has had a title sponsor, pharmaceutical company Mylan.

Rosters are generally filled with lesser-known players but occasionally feature stars who get paid tens of thousands of dollars for brief appearances. Andre Agassi, for instance, played for the Capitals. The 38-year-old league features a 14-game season, squeezed into the month of July.

Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

Read more articles by Dale Kasler

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