Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Net loss: Sac Caps move to Las Vegas after 28 years

Wayne Bryan announced he is stepping down
after coaching the Sacramento Capitals for
13 years. 2012 photo by Paul Bauman
   For more than a quarter century, July nights in Sacramento have featured world-class coed tennis, generally pleasant weather and a familiar exchange between the public address announcer and the crowd.
   "What time is it?"
   "Break time!"
   Those nights are gone.
   The Capitals, the longest-running and most successful franchise in World TeamTennis, announced today that they are moving to Las Vegas as the Neon after 28 years in Sacramento.
   "It's certainly the end of an era," said Wayne Bryan, who also revealed he is stepping down after 13 years as the team's coach. "The Caps have had a long and proud tradition."
   Sacramento has won a record six WTT championships, including four straight (1997-2000). The Capitals mostly struggled on and off the court since their last title in 2007 but came within three points of beating the Washington Kastles in the 2012 WTT Finals.
   In that match, Sacramento's CoCo Vandeweghe led Venus Williams 2-0 in the decisive tiebreaker before Williams reeled off the last five points to give Washington a 20-19 victory. 
Mark Knowles has played 12 seasons in World TeamTennis,
all with Sacramento. Knowles, 42, plans to return to WTT
this summer. 2013 photo by Paul Bauman
   Capitals players over the years have included Las Vegas resident Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Lindsay Davenport, Mark Knowles and Anna Kournikova.
   Agassi and Chang are members of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and Davenport almost certainly will be inducted in July. Knowles and Kournikova reached No. 1 in the world in men's and women's doubles, respectively.
   Among those who have visited Sacramento to oppose the Capitals are Hall of Famers Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin and Martina Hingis and future Hall of Famers Serena and Venus Williams, Andy Roddick and Bob and Mike Bryan (Wayne's identical twin sons).
   "It's obviously a tough day," said the 42-year-old Knowles, a three-time WTT Male MVP who plans to return for his 13th season in the league. "I have such fond memories of Sacramento. It's the only team I've played for. The fans have been incredibly special, and I've been fortunate to be with a lot of great owners. It definitely will be bizarre not playing in Sacramento."
Lindsay Davenport, a former Capital, almost
certainly will be inducted into the International
Tennis Hall of Fame in July. 2012 photo
by Paul Bauman
   The Capitals' exodus represents the latest blow to Northern California in professional tennis. The SAP Open, which would have been held next week in San Jose, was replaced on the ATP World Tour calendar by Rio de Janeiro after 125 years in NorCal.
   Remaining are the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford on the WTA tour and several men's and women's Challenger (minor-league) tournaments. 
   Kolleen McNamee, who will continue to serve as the WTT team's general manager, cited the lack of a permanent tennis facility in the Sacramento area as the reason for the move.
   The Capitals played in a temporary stadium in the parking lot of a shopping mall -- first in Citrus Heights, then in Roseville, then back to Citrus Heights -- for the past 12 seasons. The capacity progressively was reduced from 4,500 to 2,134.
   It cost $125,000 annually to set up and take down the facility, according to former Capitals owner Lonnie Nielson. 
   Sacramento played its inaugural campaign in 1986 in the first home of the NBA's Kings and the following 15 seasons at the Gold River Racquet Club. Prompting the move from Gold River were complaints by neighbors about noise, lights and parking.
   McNamee would not disclose how the team did financially last season as the Capitals slumped to 5-9, the worst record in team history. They averaged 1,357 fans for their seven home matches, she said. 
Mike, left, and Bob Bryan, the identical twin sons of Wayne
Bryan, pose with Capitals owner Deepal Wannakuwatte and
  his wife, Betsy, after a match last July. The Bryan brothers
played for the visiting Texas Wild. 2013 photo by Paul Bauman
   It's no longer feasible to use a temporary stadium, according to McNamee.
   "There have been a number of (Capitals) ownership changes over the last five or six years, and probably those ownership changes have occurred because it's difficult to fund a franchise when you're spending a big amount of money on the stadium each year," she said. "To be fiscally responsible, it makes sense to make this move."
   Perhaps, but the ownership changes have involved far more than stadium issues. 
   Nielson, the Capitals' owner or co-owner from 2000 through 2010, pleaded guilty to grand theft related to his real estate business in the fall of 2010 and was released from prison last summer.
   Bob Cook, the team's owner or co-owner from 2008 through 2011, declared bankruptcy after the 2011 season.
   The team now is owned by Deepal Wannakuwatte, who has a medical supply company based in West Sacramento.
   WTT, meanwhile, has been in flux. Three of the four teams in the Western Conference -- Las Vegas, the San Diego Aviators and the Austin (Texas) Aces -- moved from other cities during the offseason. The other, the Texas Wild, relocated from Kansas City after the 2012 season.   
  The Neon will play at the Amanda & Stacy Darling Memorial Tennis Center, a certified USTA regional training center featuring a permanent 3,000-seat stadium.
   A fringe benefit of moving to Las Vegas is that marquee player Sam Querrey, a part-time Capital for the past two seasons, lives in the tax haven.
   On the negative side, high winds are common in Las Vegas, and it's a very tough sports market. Many residents and tourists are reluctant to pay to attend a sporting event when they might make money by gambling.
   The Tennis Channel Open, a tournament on the ATP World Tour at the Darling Tennis Center, lasted only three years (2006-08). 
   Wayne Bryan led the Capitals to two WTT titles (2002 and 2007) and was named the league's Coach of the Year three times (2004-06). The front man for the Bryan Bros. Band, Wayne composed and performed in "Sac Town Caps Songs" on a 2010 compact disc.
   Bryan, who also travels around the country emceeing tournaments and holding clinics, said the Capitals' move to Las Vegas made his decision to step down easier.
   "I'm trying to shorten up my schedule. I do about 180 days a year, and I promised (wife) Kathy I'd try to knock it down to 120 days," said Bryan, a resident of Camarillo in the Los Angeles area who will turn 67 on Feb. 19.
   "I've got two grandkids that at this stage of my life I'd like to be able to see a little bit. Bob and Mike will only be playing for three or four more years, and I'd like to spend as much time with them as I can.
   "I'm usually on the road about 10 of the 12 weeks of summer, and I'd rather be gone five of the 12 weeks and be able to have a summer barbecue and mow the grass."
   McNamee said the Neon would name Bryan's successor "in the coming weeks."
   WTT will hold its marquee player draft next Tuesday and its roster player draft on March 11. The regular season is scheduled for July 6-23, followed by the conference championships on July 24 and the WTT Finals on July 27.
   But for Sacramento fans, what time is it?
   Time to turn out the lights.
   The party's over.

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