As we near the end of our 133rd year as America’s strongest advocate for purebred dogs, it is a privilege to reflect on how much we have accomplished. The cornerstone of our mission, AKC Sports and Events are our link to the past, present and future. In 2017 we challenged ourselves to create a path to growth for Events. An extraordinary set of projects were set in motion this year to fortify and expand our events for the benefit of all dogs and exhibitors.
A retention strategy was developed to ensure that current exhibitors will have a lifetime of activities to enjoy with their dogs. To achieve it, we created ways to expand existing sports and encourage transitions into other types of events. The Conformation Puppy of Achievement pilot program, the first Retriever Field Trial National Derby Championship, two new classes in Rally and the introduction of FSS breeds into Junior Showmanship are just some of the opportunities we created to encourage exhibitors to “go deeper” into our sports. We also introduced an enhanced Juniors Recognition Program and Junior Versatility scholarships to celebrate and support the diverse accomplishments of our youngest constituents. Our new advanced levels of the Breeder of Merit program recognize breeders’ long term commitment and honors their mentorship of puppy buyers. The new Achiever Dog pilot program and an email campaign to CGC graduates not only recognize versatility but also encourage exhibitors to try their hand at new events.
Attracting new participants to AKC events was also a focal point of the year’s activities. Education, communication and innovation were the components we leveraged to build a foundation for growth. Five videos were produced to educate newcomers about our Sports, including dog shows, the Agility ACT class, CGC and STAR Puppy, Farm Dog and Rally. There is now an AKC Sports Facebook page that shares our stories with a broadening audience. We have been making significant improvements to the Event Search functions on AKC.org to make it easier for potential exhibitors to find events, classes and training. A geo-targeted email campaign to new dog registrants will build awareness about Specialty shows and plant the seeds of community that we so enjoy through our breeds. We also launched an email campaign expressly for first-time exhibitors to welcome them to the sport and encourage continued participation.
Expanding our portfolio of events has been another means to increase and diversify our constituency, as first happened with Agility back in the nineteen-nineties. This year we introduced the AKC Tricks program and the new sport of AKC Scent Work, which are welcoming new dog owners to the wonderful and wide world of AKC. Scent Work outpaced expectations with five thousand entries in its very first month. Our Tricks program has already achieved more than fifteen thousand title applications, proving the value dog owners place on training that is fun and flexible. Notably, thirty percent of Tricks title holders are new to AKC Events. Reaching a new audience through innovative programs is the first step in engaging dog owners, opening their eyes to broader possibilities with their dogs, and inspiring them to challenge themselves further.
Clubs are the lifeblood of our Sports and Events, so in 2017 we put new infrastructure in place to provide them with even greater support. We launched the Club Development Program to help clubs needing extra assistance to manage their shows and to devise strategies for growth. As a result of working with this new department, several clubs have seen a notable increase in entries. Offering a helping hand and proving our commitment to quality and integrity are the most important ways in which AKC can make a difference for our Sports. Revisions to the judging approval process that emphasize breed education have been approved and will become effective in January; we hope the end result will be more qualified judges, more confident exhibitors, more successful shows, and happier host clubs. We are already seeing the positive effects of this approach. Participation in the National Owner Handled Series has grown to cover nearly seventy percent of all breed shows, thanks in part to our strengthening of judging requirements for NOHS in 2017.
Improving the overall experience for current exhibitors and drawing in new participants with innovative programs are key objectives as we continue to foster the health and growth of AKC Events. Our focus over the past year will only sharpen as we head into a new year and a new season of exciting and rewarding events to share with our purebred dogs.
With very best holiday wishes,