ESPN and AKC dog sports team up with multi-year TV deal

Photo: AKC National Championship.. Image Courtesy Nick King
Photo: AKC National Championship.. Image Courtesy Nick King /

ESPN and the American Kennel Club have joined forces.

ESPN and the American Kennel Club have joined forces in a multi-year agreement to showcase a variety of AKC dog sports events. For the next three years (though 2023 events) the ESPN family of networks will be the home of a variety of dog sports events and canine athletic endeavors, including agilityflyball and dock diving.

This news was announced on Monday morning, December 7.

Most importantly, the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin, the season-ending event of the conformation (dog show) calendar, will air as part of the agreement, the 2020 AKC National Championship airing on ABC at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, January 17, 2021.

This will bring a much wider audience to the event, as it has been previously broadcast on Animal Planet, which is a fantastic channel, but because it is on cable, is inaccessible for many potential viewers. This also gives ABC a more even playing field compared to their competition in the realm of dog sports, as NBC has the National Dog Show and Beverly Hills Dog Show, while Fox has the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. (The Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge is syndicated on a local station-by-station basis regardless of network affiliation.)

The deal will kick off with Fastest Dogs USA, a televised special of the first-ever AKC Fast CAT Invitational that will be livestreamed on the ESPN App from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and then broadcast on ESPN2 on Sunday, December 13 at 6 p.m. ET.

The 2020 AKC National Championship group judging will also be available live on the ESPN App on Saturday, December 12 and Sunday, December 13, beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET.

A full list of AKC dog sports programs coming to the ESPN family of networks includes the AKC Fastest Dogs USA, the AKC National Championship, the AKC Agility Premier Cup, the AKC National Agility Championship, the AKC Flyball National Championship and the NADD Premier Cup.

Each broadcast will also be replayed at least twice on ESPN channels and the Nat Geo Wild channel, and ESPN will also have access to the library of previously-recorded content for use in the future.

“AKC Sports demonstrate the very best in canine athleticism and the strength of the human-canine bond,” AKC President and CEO Dennis Sprung said in a press release. “It is exciting to introduce new audiences to these action-packed events and showcase the stellar dogs that compete, and we cannot think of a better place to do so than ESPN.”

The AKC-ESPN connection began in August 2019 with ESPN Dog Day, which featured demonstration events of agility, dock diving and flyball on the ESPN campus in Bristol, Connecticut, in addition to various canine-focused specials from various programs. AKC officials provided insight on the telecast about various breeds competing and how their skillset played into their participation, while Matt Nelson of WeRateDogs offered color commentary.

The dogs of ESPN Executive Vice President of Programming and Original Content Burke Magnus, a pair of black Labradors named Luna and Stella, are big fans of this news.

“People just love their dogs and our viewers responded very well to our previous AKC telecasts,” Magnus said in a press release. “So we’re very pleased to be able to bring them more in the years to come, celebrating the beauty and athleticism of dogs and the great teamwork these events require.”

Since the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” launched around 1980, it has become synonymous with quality athletic competition, evolving into a multi-platform behemoth of sports content. This will be an excellent boost to AKC dog sports to have that added status signifier, and it will also provide casual ESPN viewers a pleasing out-of-the-ordinary viewing experience, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

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