America’s biggest dog show moves to ABC under AKC-ESPN deal

NEW YORK (AP) — The biggest dog show in the country is about to bark at a much bigger audience.

The AKC National Championship will be presented on ABC for the next three years under an agreement between the American Kennel Club and ESPN announced Monday.

Nearly 5,300 dogs entered the AKC event that was won by Wasabi the Pekingese last year, almost twice as many pooches as usually take part in the prestigious Westminster dog show.

This year’s AKC National Championship will be held next weekend in Orlando, Florida. The three-hour ABC broadcast of the competition will be shown on Jan. 17, hosted by Mary Carillo with Gina DiNardo and Carolyn Manno handling the paw-by-paw duties.

The afternoon telecast will be opposite an NFL playoff game. But a taped broadcast of a dog show going against football has worked well in the past — the annual National Dog Show on NBC routinely attracts a total audience of over 20 million on Thanksgiving Day for an event held outside Philadelphia.

“People just love their dogs and our viewers responded very well to our previous AKC telecasts,” Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice president of programming and original content, said in a statement. “I know my black labs Luna and Stella will be joining me to watch.”

The AKC, which has collaborated on “ESPN Dog Day” and “ESPN Puppy Day,” will produce other championships and competitions for the network that feature dog agility and skills.

The deal includes digital rights for events to stream live on the ESPN app, among them the upcoming AKC National Championship evening and group competitions. Last year’s big event was shown on the app.

“It is exciting to introduce new audiences to these action-packed events and showcase the stellar dogs that compete,” AKC President Dennis B. Sprung said.

Next year’s Westminster show, presented live on Fox, has been shifted because of COVID-19 concerns from its usual mid-February date to June 12-13 outdoors at an estate in Tarrytown, New York, about 25 miles north of Manhattan. It will mark the first time since 1920 that the Westminster best in show hasn’t been awarded at Madison Square Garden.

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