Live From 147th Westminster Dog Show: WKC Finds New Home at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
Fox Sports works closely with Westminster Kennel Club on operational, logistical needs
The biggest event on the dog-show calendar, the Westminster Dog Show is the goal of any breeder and dog. The Westminster Kennel Club (WKC), the organization in charge, spends the entire year planning, strategizing, and ironing out operational and logistical details for the multi-day competition. This year’s edition was complicated by a move to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Pulling off the show in the correct way is a delicate dance between teaching the public about the variety of disciplines and breeds on display and letting the elegance and athleticism of the dogs speak for themselves.
“The show is very important, but it’s also educating the people about what they’re watching,” says David A. Helming, show co-chairman/chief of staff, Westminster Kennel Club. “We want to make this overall event a good time and fun for everybody.”
In his dual role, Helming has a lot on his plate. Besides assembling the schedule of competitions, putting together a panel of distinguished judges, and working with the show’s superintendent on the flow of activities, he oversees television production and advises the overall direction of the event’s operations. He has plotted big-picture elements with Fox Sports since 2017, the broadcaster’s first year covering the show.
First televised event in 1948, the Westminster Dog Show was located at Madison Square Garden for nearly a century. One of the biggest recent hurdles has been changing venues three times in the past four years: the show was held at Madison Square Garden for the last time in 2020 and in Tarrytown, NY’s Lyndhurst Mansion in 2021 and 2022.
“I’ve been [at Lyndhurst] showing dogs throughout the years, so I knew that we could make that site work,” says Helming. “The biggest challenge was having to rebuild this show from the ground up. Without the support of Fox Sports and our solid working relationship with them, that never would’ve happened. They’ve worked on World Series and Super Bowls, so we know that we have top-notch production and operations teams on our side.”
Choosing to move on to a new venue, WKC scouted out new destinations for the event. Ultimately, USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY, was picked to host the latest edition. Looking to expand the venue’s yearly calendar of events, the United States Tennis Association was keen on adding the show. And going from the limited-capacity Lyndhurst Mansion to the gargantuan campus of the Tennis Center and its 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium allowed increased attendance and the introduction of the Dock Diving event.
“[The USTA] wanted to bring the history of this venue and the US Open tournament with our history,” notes Helming. “There was a bit of an education process about what we do with this event, but they got on board and have been great hosts.”
With a first-time venue, the possibility of issues emerging becomes a lot larger. Luckily, Westminster Kennel Club Director, Companion Events, Paul Campanella, Helming’s go-to operations lead, is the main contact for Fox Sports Director, Field Operations, Francisco “Paco” Contreras. With an extensive background in participating in and judging dog shows, Campanella understands the obstacles that come with producing the Westminster Dog Show. Always looking to innovate and enhance coverage, Fox Sports is implementing a new Spidercam system from high above. Because it could be a distraction for the dogs, Campanella stresses the importance of running through the show beforehand.
“The competition itself hasn’t changed,” he explains, “but, when there’s a new technology, we have a full rehearsal on the night before. I’ll bring a bunch of dogs that aren’t competing to run the final course and see if they get distracted by [the Spidercam]. A couple of dogs were [distracted], so we knew that we had to raise that marker [inside Arthur Ashe Stadium]. These dogs train for this for years, so they need to be completely focused.”
When Tuesday’s Best in Show competition concludes, Campanella and his operations team, which includes Manager, Operations, Linda Duane, will return to the drawing board to prepare for the showcase all over again.
“We’ll do an evaluation next week,” he says. “We’d like to see what worked and what didn’t.”
Despite the challenges of a new venue or the fact that more than 3,000 canines are judged and placed in picking the cream of the crop, the heart of the production is the appreciation of the dogs and the jovial spirit they bring to spectators, officials, and the sport alike.
“We’re here to do [this show] the best we can and showcase these championship-level dogs,” says Helming, adding, “Fox Sports’ promoting our efforts helps give [this event] a broader reach to sports fans.”