What does it cost to put on a dog show? Is it lucrative? We have all heard the possibly apocryphal story of the club that made such a big profit from their show that the whole show committee as a reward was sent on an all-expenses-paid trip to Crufts …
The reality is usually a lot bleaker. If you want your show to be outstanding, feature the finest judges, offer the greatest hospitality and include such special features that the discerning exhibitors come back year after year — well, it's an expensive proposition, especially if you want the show to be held in a location that's pleasant enough that you don't have to wonder why in God's name we put up with this.
We are taught that it's not nice to talk about money, and that's probably one of the reasons that so many of us — who are not involved in the thankless task of organizing dog shows — take things for granted. How many of you send a little thank-you note to the show chairman (or woman) after an enjoyable weekend? How many even think how lucky it is that there are, in fact, a few shows that you look forward to, year after year, because the judges are usually interesting, the showground pleasant, the special attractions worth participating in, and altogether it all feels like a worthwhile way of spending a weekend.
I took it upon myself to ask a few people I know and respect for the actual figures. Nobody seems to have done that before, and the results were mixed — but very interesting. These aren't your typical shows, of course: what I was interested in was how much the shows I really enjoy spend. I understand why some of them didn't want their figures to be public knowledge. Sometimes there are board decisions that get in the way, and some of these clubs are so high-profiie that their financial affairs might be trumpeted out by the media. However, several clubs were willing to share. I'm very grateful to them, because if we don't know how expensive it can be to organize a dog show, how will we be able to appreciate it?
$90,000 for the Fairgrounds!
This article actually started as a conversation that Paul Lepiane and I had with Linda Souza, best known nationwide as a successful owner-handler of Irish Wolfhounds but also heavily involved in organizing the Harvest Moon Classic Cluster in California. This is commonly known as the "Del Valle weekend," held in October each year at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, about an hour's drive inland from San Francisco. The weekend consists of the Skyline Dog Fanciers of San Mateo County show on Friday and back-to-back Del Valle Dog Club of Livermore shows on Saturday and Sunday, with a total of almost 40 designated specialties between the three shows, plus a few independent specialties on Thursday. (Just about the only thing that I'm not crazy about this weekend are the all-breed clubs' names: try saying SDFSMC and DVKCL without stumbling over your tongue! Most people refer to them simply as Skyline and Del Valle.)
Linda happened to mention that the clubs pay a small fortune, almost $100,000, for renting the 270-acre Alameda County Fairgrounds over the weekend. We were shocked, naturally, as I'm sure most exhibitors would be, but that's only part of it. With the blessing of the clubs involved Linda agreed to share total figures for their 2018 show (2019 details were not finalized yet). The information is not only courtesy of Linda (show chair for Skyline) but also of Sandra Pretari Hickson (show chair for Del Valle) and of Betty-Anne Stenmark, the presiding genius who has made this weekend a national event. These days Betty-Anne has taken on a smaller official role in the weekend, but her imprimatur still hangs over the whole weekend.
As Linda says, "The cluster expenses may surprise you. Most people have no idea what it takes financially to put on a large, quality dog show." The Fairgrounds total was $90,252 (plus at least $5,000 more in 2019), superintendent and ribbons cost $78,415. Transportation, hotel and fees amounted to $34,832 for 68 judges, varying from a couple of overseas visitors from Europe and one from Canada to local talent (about half the judges were from California, many of them for sweepstakes). The AKC recording fees was $22,050, tenting and golf carts $18,830, RV parking manager and crew $10,000. The ring stewards (53 rings) cost $8,380, lunch for judges and stewards $8,076, club members' hotel $7,023, sweepstakes cash prizes $5,299, trophies $3,526, announcer $2,262, show office expenses $1,416, city/county taxes $1,080 and finally EMT (Emergency Medical Technicians) $900.
This adds up to total expenses of $292,585, which with an income of $225,585 from entry fees (there were 1,888 entries at Skyline, 2,619 entries at Del Valle on Saturday and 2,114 entries on Sunday) left a negative of $66,836. This had to be covered by RV income, vendors, agility, independent specialty fees, catalog sales and sponsorship from Evanger's Dog Food.
Linda comments on the show: "We actually had a small profit in 2018, because our entry was up 300 from 2017, when we broke even." The future may not be so bright, however: "In 2019 we were down 600 entries from 2018, so we will lose a small amount on the last cluster. Keeping entry numbers up is crucial for continuing the shows at the current facility."
Obviously, the big expense is the fairgrounds, but where else in this area could a dog show of this size be held? (The majority of the 270 acres are used for the dog shows, but we noticed that there were no rings on the lawn next to Pleasanton Avenue at the 2019 shows; we were told that this small, grassy piece of the Fairgrounds would have cost $5,000 extra ...) And, of course, the county can easily fill their calendar with other events and are in no way inclined to give any favors to the dog people. The Alameda County Fairgrounds is, after all, a historic venue, home to the County Fair since 1912, while the horse-racing track that's located on the grounds was built in 1858 and is one of the oldest in the country. (It is no longer used; when the fairgrounds lost racing a couple of years ago there was another fee increase ...)
Nothing Like It, Anywhere!
How typical are the Harvest Moon Cluster expenses? One of the clubs I asked was Morris & Essex Kennel Club, which is not in any way typical of any dog show held in America, or anywhere else for that matter … For one thing, Morris & Essex is held only once every five years; it's a wonderful recreation of an ancient, world-famous dog show from the first half of the 1900s, and it's a stand-alone event in as much as it's the only show held in Colonial Park in Somerset, New Jersey. (Other all-breed shows are held in the same area the same week, concluding with the Montgomery County KC Terrier extravaganza on Sunday.) In spite of being a Thursday event, the last M&EKC show, on October 1, 2015 (a couple of weeks prior to that year's Harvest Moon Cluster in California), had a record 4,667 entries.
This is also one of the most expensive shows anywhere, with costs running to a total of $297,400, as per figures submitted by show chair and president Wayne Ferguson. The show grounds cost much less than in California, $11,100 (although this, as everything else, is for just one show day, while the Harvest Moon Cluster goes on for three days), but on the other hand tenting was a huge expense for M&EKC: $46,700, much more than the California clubs had to pay. The fairgrounds includes several buildings, which is not the case with Colonial Park.
Morris & Essex KC is perhaps the only dog club that does not pay judges' transportation to the show, but hotel for them cost $12,200. There were about 120 judges at the 2015 show; the judges' lunch cost $31,200 and the dinner $28,100. The free box lunches for exhibitors, a highly popular feature, cost $32,200 — the second-most expensive item of the show. "Group Hospitality" was $17,300 and flowers a total of $12,700. On the practical side, generators for electricity cost a total of $25,400. There were too many other expenses to list all — one of the more interesting small (well, comparatively speaking) costs was for "pennants for tent tops" to the tune of $2,400 — but what would Morris & Essex be without these historically accurate little flags?
I am not sure what other kennel clubs around the country pay to put on their shows. Abbe Shaw, who's president of Santa Barbara Kennel Club, tells me that they pay $55,000 for Earl Warren Showgrounds, where the two back-to-back SBKC shows are held in late August these days. That includes the sod (a correct but unglamorous description of the smooth, emerald-green lawn that's brought into the arena), and in addition to the SBKC shows there are usually two additional shows that can share the cost: most recently Simi Valley KC. Abbe points out, however, that "without our generous sponsors, SBKC could not continue to offer the Special Events and the Exhibitor Dinner on Saturday evening during the Breeders Showcase that we are known for." I have a feeling that this goes for most shows these days, although few shows have so many or so interesting special events as Santa Barbara, and I know of no other dog show that treats all the exhibitors to dinner ...
The Most Beautiful and the Most Famous
A couple of clubs not able to share their expenses were another big California show, the Kennel Club of Palm Springs, and — understandably — Westminster Kennel Club. I was particularly interested in knowing what the wonderful Empire Polo Club in Indio costs during the New Year's weekend that the dogs are in town. It is barely half an hour's drive from Palm Springs and probably the most beautiful showground in the U.S., if not the world: Seemingly endless, billiard-table-smooth lawns, waving palm trees, shading tents, a rose garden, shiny polo ponies and distant mountains in the background — and all this usually bathed in bright sunshine...Vice President Darryl Vice, whom I initially approached, was not sure that the club would want to share the business of the club. Show chair Gloria Toussaint felt that this would make an interesting article and agreed that it would be good, to some extent, for the regular dog-show public to know how expensive the big dog shows are. However, she also believed there are negative aspects in releasing that information, which could be detrimental to the show. Unfortunately, the club's board passed a ruling about sharing their finances with the public, but admits that my guess of a "sky hight" cost of the showground is very accurate.
That Westminster Kennel Club could not release its figures was expected and understandable. Show chair David Helming took time to respond to my inquiry in the middle of what must have been the busiest week of the year for him. (Bad timing on my part to write during "Westminster week"!) Dave wrote, in part: "Thanks for your inquiry on an interesting subject. Unfortunately I can not help you on Westminster as our Show Committee does not release figures on either income or expenses related to the show, due to the many complexities of hosting such a large and unique event. As I am sure you can appreciate, having attended the show, it is held at two venues in New York City, so suffice it to say the expenses are significant."
Dave has also been heavily involved in Morris & Essex Kennel Club, and says that "M&E is the largest outdoor show with the highest costs that I am familiar with. Again, it is a unique show occurring every five years that provides many 'perks' to its exhibitors that the normal outdoor shows don’t provide, which significantly drives expenses. I have chaired the Somerset Hills KC show as a stand-alone event several years ago, and also chaired the Westchester KC show as part of a cluster — neither of these shows had expenses close to M&E."
So there you have it. If you're planning to get rich organizing a dog show, think again. In fact, we should consider ourselves lucky that there are people who work hard at hosting these and many other wonderful shows ... even though the financial side of it may be grim.