World Team Tennis (1986-2013)
Born: 1986 – WTT expansion franchise.
Died: February 4, 2014 – The Capitals relocate to Las Vegas, NV
- 1986: ARCO Arena
- 1987-2001: Gold River Racquet Club (2,600)
- 2002-2006: Sunrise Mall
- 2007-2010: Westfield Galleria (2,400)
- 2011-2013: Sunrise Mall (2,500)
- 1986: Red & Blue
- 2012: Red, Blue & Yellow
- 1986-????: Richard Benvenutti
- 1987-1999: Ramey Osborne
- ????-2007: Lonnie Nielson et al.
- 2008-2010: Lonnie Nielson & Bob Cook
- 2011: Bob Cook
- 2012-2013: Deepal Wannakuwatte & Ramey Osborne
The Sacramento Capitals were, for many years, the oldest and most successful franchise in Billie Jean King’s long-running World Team Tennis promotion. The Capitals played a league record 28 seasons and their six championships (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 & 2007) also remain a league-best.
The Capitals began life in the summer of 1986 at ARCO Arena, home to the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. During the 1970’s and 80’s, many Team Tennis franchises played in big NHL and NBA arenas, but as the league’s business model scaled down and stabilized in the 1990’s, most clubs shifted to country clubs and resort hotels with bleacher-style seating for a few thousand spectators. The Caps followed this model too, leaving ARCO after one season for the Gold River Racquet Club in 1987. After 15 summers at Gold River, the Caps spent most of the 2000’s playing at shopping center parking lots where they would erect and dismantle temporary stadia every July.
World Team Tennis is a co-ed sport and the doubles game factors prominently in the scoring system. Most WTT players are relatively unknown tour professionals, often doubles specialists. The league’s marketing plan is reliant on the signing of several “marquee players” each summer who serve as tent pole attractions to fill seats around the league. Andre Agassi was one such player for the Caps, playing three summers for Sacramento from 2002 to 2004. Anna Kournikova appeared for Sacramento during their final championship season in 2007. Michael Chang played for the Caps in 2009 and 2010. In other years, the Capitals featured no household names, but Northern California tennis fans could look forward to seeing superstars such as Pete Sampras and Venus Williams who came through town with opposing teams.
As stable as the Capitals seemed during their near-three decade residency, the franchise went through numerous ownership changes in its final years as the team’s various financial backers went through legal and financial troubles. Long-time owner Lonnie Nielson lost control of the team in 2010 after being charged in an embezzling scheme in his real estate business. He would be sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011. Nielson’s partner Bob Cook took over the Caps on his own in 2011, but declared bankruptcy at the end of the year after his Le Rivage Hotel development in Sacramento went sour. The worst, however, was yet to come.
After Cook went bust, a former owner of the team, Ramey Osborne, stepped back into the picture and rescued the team with the help of a man named Deepal Wannakuwatte. Wannakuwatte presented himself as a successful entrepreneur who built a $100 million medical supply business in Sacramento. In fact, Wannakuwatte’s surgical glove company was practically worthless and his real source of wealth was a decade-long $150 million Ponzi scheme. No one was any wiser during the Capitals’ final two seasons under Wannakuwatte’s ownership in 2012 and 2013.
In early February 2014, Wannakuwatte announced that the franchise would move to Las Vegas and become the Las Vegas Neon after 28 years in Sacramento. Less than two weeks after he held his introductory press conference in Sin City, the feds closed in and arrested him. World TeamTennis revoked and disbanded the Las Vegas Neon franchise on March 5th, 2014, one month and one day after the club was introduced. Wannakuwatte plead guilty to fraud charges in May 2014 and is awaiting sentencing, which is expected to be upwards of 20 years in prison.
Sacramento Capitals promotional video for sponsorship sales. Circa 2011 or 2012.