Sacramento’s pro tennis team facing financial problems

The California Dream’s logo
The California Dream’s logo California Dream

Sacramento’s return to the world of professional team tennis appears to be in financial trouble after one year in operation.

The California Dream, a member of the Mylan World TeamTennis league, was sued this week by the club’s food concessionaire for nonpayment of a $19,000 bill. The lawsuit came as one of the team’s minority partners told The Sacramento Bee that the Dream’s future is uncertain.

“I don’t know if the team is going to be back or not,” minority owner Bob Kaliski said Wednesday, adding that he personally lost $175,000 investing in the team. “I know I’m not going to be back. I don’t know about the rest of the team.”

The director of the Sunrise MarketPlace business district, one of the team’s main sponsors, said she hasn’t heard from the team’s owners since the season ended in July and she, too, doesn’t know whether the Dream will return for another season.

“We’re sort of in limbo, too,” said Kathilynn Carpenter, the group’s executive director. “We don’t know what’s going on.” The business district paid for construction of the team’s temporary stadium in the Sunrise Mall parking lot.

After relocating from the Dallas area, the Dream moved to Sacramento for the 2015 season, bringing the region back into World TeamTennis after a one-year absence. The Dream replaced the Sacramento Capitals, who endured numerous financial problems of their own before their demise prior to the 2014 season.

Rosie Crews, the league’s spokeswoman, said the league hasn’t heard from majority owner Jeff Launius since the season ended, but the lack of contact doesn’t mean anything is amiss. She said Launius has until the end of the month to meet the financial commitments necessary to secure the Dream’s spot in the league for 2016.

“Things are usually kind of slow in the offseason,” she said. “We don’t have anything that’s a red flag on our end.” She declined comment on the vendor lawsuit.

The Bee was unable to reach Launius and the third investor in the team, Mike Malone, for comment. The phone number listed on the team’s website is out of service.

The Dream’s apparent financial troubles are distressingly familiar to Sacramento tennis fans. Although not wildly popular, World TeamTennis has been a long-standing fixture on the Sacramento sports season. The Capitals played 28 years and won six league championships.

But the Capitals struggled to find a home. They were forced to play in makeshift stadiums at Sunrise and other venues. Financial problems popped up intermittently.

In 2010, while the team was playing at the Galleria of Roseville, a Placer County sheriff’s deputy confiscated box-office receipts to satisfy a court judgment against then-owner Lonnie Nielson. A year later Nielson was sentenced to seven years in prison for embezzlement stemming from a real estate transaction.

Nielson’s successor, Bob Cook, almost lost the franchise after filing for bankruptcy protection over a troubled hotel development. Cook gave way to medical-supply entrepreneur Deepal Wannakuwatte, who owned the team for two years before announcing in early 2014 he was moving the Capitals to Las Vegas. The reason was his frustration over the team’s lack of a permanent home in Sacramento.

The move to Vegas never happened. Shortly after the announcement, Wannakuwatte was arrested on charges of orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme connected to his medical supply business. The league ordered the club disbanded, and Wannakuwatte was later sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Sacramento went a year without World TeamTennis. In February 2015, the league announced that Launius, owner of the Texas Wild franchise in Irving, Texas, was moving the club to Sacramento and rebranding it the California Dream. “This market certainly has fans that know and love World TeamTennis and they deserve a team,” Launius said in a press release.

Playing in a 2,400-seat stadium, the club drew 9,036 fans for seven home matches, ranking sixth in the league in attendance. It made the playoffs but lost in the first round.

Kaliski, whose family owns and operates a swim and racquet club in Mill Valley, said Launius told him the Dream owed its vendors $192,000 at the end of the season.

One of those vendors, Randy Peters Catering of Citrus Heights, sued the Dream and the three owners in Sacramento Superior Court this week, demanding $19,249 for its work during the season. The caterer’s lawyer, Cynthia Lawrence of Roseville, said her client has been promised a check for months.

“They never paid me a dime,” said caterer co-owner Lisa Peters.

Meanwhile, the league continues to deal with the fallout from the Wannakuwatte arrest. The league has agreed to return $100,000 in franchise payments to the bankruptcy estate of Wannakuwatte’s medical supply company, according to papers filed last week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Wannakuwatte paid the league $150,000 shortly before his arrest; the league and the bankruptcy trustee settled on a $100,000 refund.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler