Business & Real Estate

Sacramento pro tennis team folds

Australia’s Jarmila Gajdosova, who competes internationally on the Women’s Tennis Association tour, played for the California Dream in its lone season in Sacramento last year. World TeamTennis eliminated the team this week.
Australia’s Jarmila Gajdosova, who competes internationally on the Women’s Tennis Association tour, played for the California Dream in its lone season in Sacramento last year. World TeamTennis eliminated the team this week. PA Wire

Sacramento has lost its professional tennis team – again.

Amid evidence of financial troubles, the California Dream has had its Mylan World TeamTennis franchise terminated. One of the team’s sponsors said it could be the final chapter in Sacramento’s long but increasingly chaotic tenure in the WTT.

League spokeswoman Rosie Crews said Wednesday the Dream’s franchise was terminated “due to noncompliance with their obligation to the league.” She wouldn’t elaborate, but generally WTT team owners have to pay a fee in late December or early January to secure a spot for the upcoming season.

Dream majority owner Jeff Launius, who moved the team from Dallas a year ago, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The news came a month after the team’s food concessionaire sued the team and its three owners for failure to pay a $19,000 bill and one of the owners said the team’s future looked iffy.

The Dream replaced the Sacramento Capitals, returning team tennis to the region after a one-year absence. The Capitals, after 28 years in Sacramento, left for Las Vegas prior to the 2014 season but never played a match in Nevada; the league terminated the team after owner Deepal Wannakuwatte was arrested for operating a Ponzi scheme unrelated to tennis.

Wannakuwatte was one of several Capitals owners to run into legal or financial headaches in the past few years. That difficult history, coupled with the collapse of the Dream, has leaders of the Sacramento tennis community doubting the WTT will give the region another shot.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have a team again,” said Glenn Stough, owner of Roseville sporting-goods store Tennis Town, which was one of the Dream’s sponsors.

Stough called the announcement disappointing. “It’s very important to the tennis community of Sacramento to have a team to rally around,” he said.

Crews said WTT officials regret the demise of the Dream. “Lot of nice people in Sacramento,” she said.

Founded in 1974 by the legendary Billie Jean King, team tennis offers an alternative to the sport’s sometimes stuffy image, with noisy fans and multi-colored playing surfaces. Most of the players aren’t well known, although teams will occasionally pay tens of thousands of dollars to hire big-name stars for individual matches. The season consists of 14 matches jammed into two or three weeks in July and August, followed by playoffs.

The Capitals won six league titles in their 28 years. They built a small but loyal following despite struggling to find a permanent home stadium. The team played its first season in 1986 at Arco Arena before moving to the Gold River Racquet Club from 1987-2001. In later years, the team played in temporary venues in shopping mall parking lots.

The Dream played its lone season in a 2,400-seat stadium at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights. Attendance totaled 9,036 for seven home matches.

Kathilynn Carpenter of the Sunrise MarketPlace business district, which built the Dream’s stadium, said the team’s popularity was hampered by Launius’ refusal to create a more entertaining atmosphere at matches. Capitals fans were accustomed to activities for children, a broader array of food vendors and other amenities, Carpenter said.

She said Launius’ attitude was colored in part by Wannakuwatte’s arrest; the owner didn’t want fans to be reminded of the Capitals. “He had to do everything as different from the Capitals as he could,” she said.

Wannakuwatte was the latest in a series of Capitals owners who encountered serious problems. Lonnie Nielson, who acquired the team in 2000, was sentenced to prison a decade later for grand theft in a case related to a real estate deal. His successor, Bob Cook, filed for bankruptcy over a hotel development. Cook was replaced by Wannakuwatte, who owned the team for two years before deciding to move the franchise to Las Vegas.

In early 2014, a few weeks after the announcement, Wannakuwatte was arrested for fraud. Later he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in late 2014 after admitting he orchestrated a $100 million Ponzi scheme connected to his West Sacramento medical supply company.

Editor’s note (Jan. 14): Due to an editor’s error, a previous version of this story said the Capitals initially played at the Gold River Racquet Club. The team played its first season at Arco Arena in 1986 before playing at Gold River Racquet Club from 1987-2001.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler