The economics of the Westminster Dog Show: Best in show gets no prize money, but about that breeding…
Trumpet the bloodhound won the coveted best in show prize at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Wednesday night, but victories like his don’t come cheap.
Each year, the winning dog walks away with the Westminster Legend Trophy, a hand-engraved crystal bowl. But even for the first-place champion, there is no cash prize.
In fact, competing at the nation’s most prestigious dog show can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Entry fees start at $100, according to the premium list for this year’s event. Then there are the expenses of traveling to New York for the show—hotels and transportation—as well as ongoing grooming and upkeep of the dog’s appearance.
So what do the winners actually win?
Once on the grass, some owners show their own dogs. But more often, they hire professional handlers to lead the dogs as judges grade how closely they meet their breed’s standards.
Trumpet’s handler and owner, Heather Helmer, also bred the 4-year-old. On the side, she’s a handler for hire, charging anywhere from $100 to $400 for ringside handling, depending on the type of show, according to her website. For Westminster, her ringside fees start at $1,000, with an extra $800 bonus if the dog wins best in show.
But those fees could be considered chump change compared to the small fortune many spend leading up to the competition. During this so-called campaign period, owners fly their dogs around the country and advertise them in magazines to generate buzz in the year before Westminster.
Campaigns could spend $250,000 in total or $100,000 just on advertising, owners reported to CNBC. And a full-page commercial ad in the glossy pages of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show’s own catalog costs $350, according to the event’s premium list.
“Advertising in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show Catalog is an excellent opportunity to promote your dogs to the public,” the Westminster Kennel Club wrote.
The Westminster Kennel Club did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment.
Although it’s an expensive process, becoming a champion for the return of no prize money could pay off with time.
Some Westminster champions have been able to make money from brand sponsorships and ambassadorships. Last year’s best in show, Wasabi the Pekingese, became an ambassador for Purina’s Pro Plan brand. Wasabi’s owner told the New York Times that this ambassadorship meant some free food and discounts.
Owners can also recoup expenses by selling puppies and charging stud fees for breeding.
Wasabi, for example, has sired six puppies, his owner told the Times. Money from breeding potential is not guaranteed; the first beagle to ever win best in show, Uno, was infertile. Still, the puppies of Westminster winners have fetched as much as $10,000 to $25,000 each at Southwest Auction Service, the nation’s largest legal dog auction, Investment News reports.
In at least one case, owners kept making money even after a Westminster winner’s death. Peter, a Standard Poodle, won Westminster’s Best in Show in 1991. When his frozen semen was accidentally destroyed at a clinic in 2010, the owners sued and were awarded over $200,000 for the value of the samples, according to Salon.com.
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