Seattle Kennel Club and CenturyLink leaders combine teamwork, cool heads to deal with huge challenge

Photos courtesy Shibaguyz Photography and Jerry and Lois Photography

By Ranny Green

It’s been said that the riskiest sports-management business is operating a ski resort and being dependent on the weatherman to deliver enough snow year after year to attract snowboarders and downhill skiers.

You might want to add any dog club in the country willing to conduct a show in a major high-rent metropolitan venue year after year to the list. One major setback or an assortment of small ones can doom the club financially and end a long run of prestigious annual events.

This Cavalier King Charles spaniel takes a break in a club educational booth at the Seattle Kennel Club’s March shows.

This Cavalier King Charles spaniel takes a break in a club educational booth at the Seattle Kennel Club’s March shows.

You probably won’t need all of your fingers to count the number of shows conducted in prime civic arenas today. For starters, there’s the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Piers 92/94 and Madison Square Garden in New York City; the National Dog Show presented by The Kennel Club of Philadelphia at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center; the International Kennel Club of Chicago’s International Cluster of Dog Shows at McCormick Place, Lakeside Building; Reliant Park World Series of Dog Shows in Houston; the Dog Fanciers Association of Oregon’s Rose City Classic Dog Show at the Portland Exhibition Center; and the Seattle Kennel Club All-Breed Shows at CenturyLink Field Event Center.

The Detroit Kennel Club canceled its annual benched show this year – an event held since 1916 – for lack of sponsorship. The March show at downtown Cobo Center usually attracts 2,000-plus dogs and 25,000 spectators, but in recent years the club struggled to find a new sponsor since Purina withdrew three years ago.

“We did everything humanly possible to come up with sponsorships, club spokeswoman Robin Borgstrom told the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. Officials said the event cost more than $100,000 annually, with the main sponsor covering most of that. The club is actively looking at other venue options and sponsorship for a 2015 event.

The Seattle show is fraught with challenges every year, explains Jane Anderson, show chairperson. “But this year we were blindsided in the final month and were fortunate to come out of it OK financially.”

One of the most popular features of the annual event, is club member Katie Campbell’s get-acquainted hourly tours, which introduce attendees to all aspects of the dog world.

One of the most popular features of the annual event, is club member Katie Campbell’s get-acquainted hourly tours, which introduce attendees to all aspects of the dog world.

Almost a month before the early March shows, club personnel learned that the Saturday event was square up against the Seattle Sounders Major League Soccer noon home opener, which would be attracting a crowd of approximately 40,000 next door.

Predictably, traffic congestion and overflow parking lots were certain to keep spectators away from the dog show that day – normally the biggest paid gate of the weekend.

Upon learning of the conflict, Morgan Littlefield-Adamack, First & Goal Inc. director of event operations, contacted the club and called an emergency meeting.

“The preliminary schedule had the Sounders playing on that date but their opening games have historically been in the evening,” says Littlefield-Adamack. “When we learned it was a noon start, it became incumbent on us to do everything possible to accommodate the club’s needs and concerns.”

Asked if the club gave consideration to canceling the shows, Anderson responded, “No, it was too late because premium lists had been sent and contracts were in place. And had we had more time, we could have seriously considered many options. But my immediate thought was how do we make this work. The CenturyLink folks were incredible in helping us work through the challenge.”

Seattle Kennel Club president Don Hanson echoed Anderson’s assessment, “Collaboration was the key, once again, to another successful show weekend with club members and CenturyLink staff synchronizing their efforts.”

The back-to-back shows attract large crowds and a wide mix of vendors, in addition to conformation, agility, obedience and rally competition.

The back-to-back shows attract large crowds and a wide mix of vendors, in addition to conformation, agility, obedience and rally competition.

Seattle Sounders FC vs. the Seattle Kennel Club assumed the persona of David vs. Goliath. It was akin to the kennel club being slapped with a red card, playing shorthanded and facing a penalty kick in the opening seconds of the match.

“Unlike many clubs nationwide, we’re dependent on our gate to break even,” says Anderson. “When we can’t attract enough spectators it has a ripple effect on everything else. It affects vendor sales and plays a large role in vendors determining if they will be back with us the following year.”

The Seattle shows are held annually on the 10th weekend of the American Kennel Club’s calendar year and cannot be moved without major challenges. So that, coupled with the Seattle Kennel Club’s lock on those dates for the area’s premier show facility leave the club little wiggle room. Upon signing the financial settlement following each year’s show, the club makes a deposit for dates the same weekend the following year.

Facility rental, labor expenses, utilities and other items amount to approximately three-quarters of the club’s annual show expenses. Entry fees, vendor booth rentals and ticket sales are the chief income sources along with sponsorships.

Because of the Sounders conflict and the reduced ticket sales for the Saturday show, First & Goal offered to reduce the overall rent fee this year, allowing the club be in the area of breaking even, says Laura Pond, treasurer.

Sarah Vetting, First & Goal director of sales and marketing, says, “We have enjoyed a terrific relationship with the club for more than decade. We want them here and recognize they must be locked into the particular March weekend they have. What happened this year was no one’s fault, but going forward we will have a better knowledge next year should the Sounders be playing on one of the two dates of the dog show.”

This year’s noon start time was dictated to a large degree by NBC Sports Channel, which televised and heavily promoted the match nationwide.

The action-packed and challenging agility ring is always a popular draw with crowd goers.

The action-packed and challenging agility ring is always a popular draw with crowd goers.

Both Vetting and Littlefield-Adamack agreed that when confronted with these late-breaking scheduling curveballs the key to resolving matters is maintaining a friendly relationship with flexibility and creativeness.

“Everyone worked hard to make this work,” says Vetting. “Yes, it was challenging but as things progressed I think the strong relationship between the club and First & Goal served everyone well.”

Sunday paid attendance was higher than usual, compensating somewhat for the decline Saturday. Bottom line, the club didn’t lose money and made a five-figure-deposit to return in 2015.

“We are committed to Seattle,” says Anderson. “It is the club’s decision to serve its AKC designated area (Seattle) rather than clustering with other all-breed clubs at a location outside of our area.”

And, oh, by the way, the Seattle Kennel Club scored a late short-handed goal to tie that proverbial match with the Sounders.