A 2023 Update From The NAFA Chair

As the Chairperson of the Board of Directors, I wanted to provide some updates on what is happening in NAFA.  We certainly hear your concerns and calls for transparency, so I am happy to provide everyone with more details. I can also assure you that those of us on the BOD, past and present, are working hard to promote the sport all of us love.  

At a grassroots level, we know that clubs and individuals involved in flyball play a huge role in promoting the sport of flyball.  Getting people into the sport is much easier if they are already familiar with flyball and excited to try out the sport.  To that end, NAFA is working to promote the sport on an international scale.  We have developed a strong relationship with two of the most well known dog and sport media outlets.  The AKC is the leader in promoting dog ownership and dog sports while ESPN is the global leader in sports programming. Both these companies are investing real money to promote the sport of flyball.  This partnership puts NAFA Flyball out into the world at a scale that NAFA could never afford to do on our own.  

This burgeoning partnership has provided extensive coverage of CanAm, through AKC’s Livestream and the ESPN Coverage of the CanAm finals with no cost to NAFA.  Prior to this NAFA PAID to have a livestream service at CanAm, at a cost of around $8,000 per CanAm event.  Additionally, NAFA receives money for broadcast rights.  In 2021, this money was the difference between having CanAm or canceling the entire event.  Coming out of COVID, CanAm 2021 almost didn’t happen.  The BOD had to weigh the feasibility of hosting such a large event, knowing participation would be down from past years. The financial help from AKC/ESPN made hosting CanAm a far less risky proposition.  

Hours and hours were spent in pre-production meetings helping AKC/ESPN understand a sport they had rarely covered before.  The production was top notch and we were able to have the sport promoted in the US and on TSN in Canada.  When AKC/ESPN offered to do a second Invitational Flyball Event, the NAFA BOD was 100% in favor.  It enables us to promote the sport internationally, not just once, but twice a year.   Again, this is at no cost to NAFA; AKC pays for venue rental, constructing those amazing sets, and everything else required to broadcast a professional looking event worthy of being carried on ESPN. As previously mentioned, NAFA receives funds for broadcast rights which are used in part to provide a stipend to the teams attending the Invitational event. Teams that are sent invites are told upfront that the stipend will more than likely not cover all their expenses.  These teams participate in these events to support NAFA, while enjoying being on national TV showcasing their dogs and clubs.  Invitationals are positive events that promote the sport and help NAFA’s finances, which took a hard hit during COVID.  

We have had additional discussions about AKC.TV live streaming at various tournaments across the US.  As AKC/ESPN see that investing in flyball is a positive thing, we hope that more opportunities present themselves.  They have also been working to help NAFA connect with more sponsors and vendors.  Flyball has a value to them, it’s something they can help build a following with the public.  Many of us have watched Crufts Flyball coverage grow and improve over the years.  We hope to follow in a similar vein so that we can promote more and more aspects of flyball to the general public. For those that didn’t see last year’s Invitational broadcast, they had two extensive features, one on a fantastic junior handler and another on a Boston Terrier!  This is only our second invitational and both sides are learning what works and where we can improve.  There is so much speculation, so many “I think” comments that just aren’t founded in any facts.     

The BOD has our concerns too about how to have an invitational event in a fair manner when tough decisions have to be made.  Invitational style events have a level of prestige, they seek to elevate the sport.  They are showcasing some level of the best in the sport.  The board took this approach for this Invitational event as well.  To that end, we created an Invitational Selection Committee (composed of board and non-board members) and established criteria for those invitations.  That list of criteria was posted in the September 5th, 2022 Meeting Minutes.  The committee used that criteria to give a list of 25 possible clubs for the Invitational.  As we knew from the first Invitational, this kind of event has feasibility issues.  How many clubs can make that kind of trip?  How many clubs can make the trip on fairly short notice?  Many on that list will decline the invite for a variety of reasons.  It’s a big commitment for a club to travel to an event like this, with no points, no prize money at stake, for a minimal amount of racing and just a small travel stipend to help offset the expense.

We have pushed AKC/ESPN to move the Invitational event to different parts of the country so that more teams will have an opportunity to be invited and for the travel to be feasible for them.  An event like this isn’t just a tournament, there are many production considerations.  Not only do they need to move in the set, production equipment and crew, they need facilities that are set up for filming events.  Just like for the CanAm finals, a facility like the Pepsi Coliseum used in CanAm 2021 is preferred over having to build an entire set from scratch like they did for CanAm 2022. This year, Ocala, FL made the most sense.  

For those that want a Multibreed part of this, we hear you, we like seeing different breeds too.  The BOD has questioned this as a way to showcase more types of dogs.  However, when we bring those concerns up to AKC/ESPN we are continually told that their primary desire is to have exciting, fast racing.  Historically the top Multibreed teams are featured in the CanAm production.  We are getting the opportunity to show lots of breeds of dogs at that event.  CanAm brings together the most flyball people in one place, at one time.  The most Multibreed entries you will see at any tournament.  If you look at those entries, there is a large range of seed times for those teams.  Considering that we have to get clubs to the Invitational location, and that many will have to say no, the disparity between Multibreed entry seed times becomes a big concern.  In regards to Junior Handlers, NAFA, as well as AKC/ESPN loves to promote them, but they need to be able to be there.  This is during school, this is on short notice and not every club has Junior Handlers.  We will gladly feature the amazing Junior Handlers we can as was done with the Junior Handler who was able to attend last year’s Invitational.  

So what is NAFA doing with the revenue from these events? 

As we recover from the financial hit that COVID caused, there have been many projects that were on the back burner until NAFA’s finances improved.  First of all, an antiquated website. This has been a priority for the BOD. That website development is in progress right now.  We anticipate the new websites to roll out in the next 12 months.  An updated CanAm website will be the first to roll out this year.   

The other is technology improvements.  This completely stalled out during COVID, and we couldn’t even consider restarting that until revenue improved.  At the last BOD Meeting, the BOD directed the technology committee to get cost adjustments from pre-COVID prices for equipment so that we can start the process of replacing equipment.  

CanAm’s broadcasting fees help offset the considerable cost of putting on the largest flyball event in the world. CanAm is an event open to all NAFA Clubs.  We know not everyone can make it each year, but the opportunity is there for all.  The website, the technology improvements, those are going to help all NAFA participants.  A huge benefit for everyone.

What can YOU do to help?

All of you are also NAFA.  Are you willing to teach classes? To bring people into the sport?  To show them the fun they can have with their dog?  Can you help connect them with our flyball community?  With every AKC/ESPN event that’s broadcast, NAFA’s contacts tick upward.  We set up a volunteer to help people find clubs in their area, sometimes they contact clubs and hear nothing.  Is that your club?  Is your contact info out of date?  Do you just not want new people?  Make that known too.  NAFA does not know each club’s preferred contact method.  Be sure to check your club’s contact info and send updates to webmaster@flyball.org.  Do you have ideas about how NAFA should be doing things?  Email your ideas to the BOD.  Nominate yourself for the BOD.  We elect new people every year, nominations open up in the late fall.  The BOD is always looking for volunteer talent that can help NAFA run better. Send an email to flyball@flyball.org and let us know how you can help.  

Finally, I encourage all of you to be an active participant!  Several of the questions posed in the comments could be found in previous meeting minutes posted on the website.  Our financial statements for 2022 will be posted to the website this week.  However, ONLY 5 people attended the live candidate chat; 19 people attended the AGM.  It’s disappointing to see such great opportunities to interact with the BOD and future candidates not utilized.  We are planning to have some regional zoom chats with Steve Corona, myself and BOD members.  Will anyone attend?  Will you interact with us live versus just from behind a keyboard?  The BOD is made up of very passionate volunteers from a cross section of regions with varying levels of experience in the sport.  You, the NAFA community, voted for these individuals to represent you and our organization.  We are doing the best we can, but we do have to make tough decisions.  It is not possible to please everyone all the time.  If you have answers to flyball problems, please bring them to the BOD, email flyball@flyball.org.  We give full consideration to every contact we get.  Every BOD member is willing to talk with you and if they don’t know the answer, they will try to find out for you.  

I hope this message has provided additional insight into the Invitational process and answered the questions many of you had about the event. For the NAFA BOD this Invitational is an easy Yes.  NAFA benefits, the flyball world benefits.  The more exposure flyball receives, the more it will grow the sport and that helps us all. I also want you all to know that we hear you, we are working hard to move NAFA forward for everyone’s enjoyment.  If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact me directly at mcjayne@yahoo.com 

Jayne McQuillen

NAFA Chairperson of the Board

What to Expect at Your First CanAm

By Mackenzie Maidl

Since I attended my first CanAm in 2017, it has become my favorite “family” reunion and I look forward to it every year. I remember initially walking into the building and being completely overwhelmed. I had no idea what to expect. It was late Thursday night, and we were some of the last people setting up. It was dark and quiet, and the building felt so big. For anyone planning their first CanAm experience, here are a few things I wish I had known before I arrived.

Be prepared to experience all four seasons in one day! We have faced everything from snow flurries to 90°F/32°C temps. Regularly checking the forecast leading up to the weekend—and then double checking—has saved me many times from over- (and under-) packing. Don’t forget both fans and coats for the dogs, as mornings can start cold and really warm up as racing gets going during the day.

You will be able to get into the building on Thursday to set up your crating area. Your space will be pre-marked, but make sure your captain has confirmed where your club will be located. It is a big building, and you could be wandering for a bit if you aren’t sure which end you are crating in. Don’t be afraid to spruce up your area for this special event! VIP lounges, couches on wheels, and refrigerators have all made appearances at CanAm in the past.

If your club is anything like mine, the meal plan is just as important as the racing plan. Racing lasts all day and there is not a break for lunch. You are able to bring in your own food, just don’t forget the extension cord, power
strip, and duct tape to plug in the crockpots and coffee makers. There is a concession stand in the building if you don’t feel like pre-planning all your meals. You will also want to make sure you bring some extra money to grab
some ice cream from Hook’s, which is maybe a little too conveniently located directly across the street.

Emily-Rose outside Hook’s

Depending on how many teams your club has entered you may have more free time between racing than others. I personally like to spend this time checking out the many vendors. I like to stock up on new collars, leashes, crate pads and tugs for the year. A walk around the building to check out the fun and unique crating areas is also one of my favorite ways to kill some downtime, in addition to watching racing.

Be prepared for it to be an all-day event and don’t rush out after racing! Friday and Saturday everyone comes together for awards. I highly recommend bringing a chair and a drink over to celebrate your and your fellow competitors’ success for the day. Awards are a great opportunity to get to know other clubs you may not get to see any other time during the year. After awards there will be mat time to work those green dogs and baby dogs you brought along. If at any point during the day you do need to leave and want to come back for awards or mat time, be prepared to pay to reenter the fairgrounds.

Gathering for awards

The biggest surprise to me was that you don’t know the Sunday racing schedule until late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. The Sunday seed times are based on your best time from Saturday and NAFA works hard to put together a competitive schedule for teams of all speeds and skill levels. The fastest eight Regular and fastest four Multibreed teams are invited to the CanAm Class. Those invitations are received at Saturday night awards.

Racing will be stopped throughout the day on Sunday for the CanAm Class elimination races which are fast and intense. It’s win-or-go-home racing and you won’t want to miss it! All the Classic Class Regular and Multibreed
divisions race on Sunday in a round-robin format for their chance to race on the big stage in the Division Championship races. And there are still Open division races to watch and participate in.

Championship Ring at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Invitational races will be filmed and broadcast on ESPN2.

The Sunday finale is so exciting! Once all the Classic Class round-robin racing is complete, the final races to determine the Regular and Multibreed CanAm Champions take place. Everyone gathers around to cheer on the
teams that have worked and trained so hard for that moment. It is truly some of the most fun racing you will experience. After that come the Championship races for each Classic Class Regular and Multibreed division.
With the cancellation in 2020 and travel restrictions/limited turnout last year, I am hopeful we will see more new faces than normal at CanAm in 2022.

Sharing the Sport of Flyball

REMEMBER YOUR first flyball dog?

By Jayne McQuillen and Dede Crough

This year at CanAm XII, NAFA teamed up with AKC.TV and ESPN to showcase flyball to a broader audience. The CanAm Championship races will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Sunday, October 17th and TSN2 on Monday, October 18th (check your local listings). Such fantastic exposure–combined with more people looking for ways to have fun with their dogs– means we’re likely to get a lot of inquiries about how to get started in flyball. Here are some great ways you and your club can play a part:

Get them hooked!

  • Invite interested people to visit a tournament and experience the excitement of racing in person!
  • Invite new people to watch a practice or, even better, try out some simple things like recalls with their dog.

Classes or workshops

  • If you are open to new members and/or teaching classes, get your club featured here on the NAFAblog. Contact us at cc@flyball.org.
  • A “try before you buy” workshop is a great way for both the instructor and the dog owner to determine if flyball class is the right choice for a dog. You could make the fee for the workshop very reasonable and apply it to the cost of the first session of classes for anyone who registers before the next beginner session starts.

Help connect people

  • If you aren’t currently taking new club members or offering classes, reach out to other area clubs, your regional director, and training facilities so you know where to refer anyone who contacts you for info.
  • If you offer classes but your club isn’t taking new members right now, find out which nearby clubs are taking new members so new dog/handler teams have somewhere to go once they get closer to being competition ready.

Teaching flyball to new people can be challenging; it takes time and patience. Although there is more upfront effort required to train both inexperienced handlers and green dogs, there are big payoffs in welcoming new people. When I look at Skidmarkz, almost every handler started with no experience, but a lot of desire to learn. They have all grown into amazing handlers and team members who each bring unique skills to our club. I know Skidmarkz is stronger for helping people get into the sport.

My first dog was a challenge to train. Zoe wasn’t fast, and she didn’t take to the sport easily. But it was that dog, and the training support we received from other flyballers, that hooked us on the sport. Think back to the dog that got you into flyball. Maybe you are lucky enough to still have that special dog in your life. It’s highly likely someone took the time to show you how to train that dog.

People ask, How did Skidmarkz become such a big club? How did you manage to bring 19 people and 42 dogs to CanAm? It didn’t happen all at once; all these orange people have slowly trickled into the club over the years. We’ve always welcomed those who wanted to learn and do more with their dogs. We took in some unlikely dogs with fantastic owners. We were willing to take anyone who truly embraced the sport and our club has flourished as a result. Great potential teammates are out there wanting to do more with their dogs, wanting to learn this sport. Make sure you don’t miss out on an opportunity to help them be successful and to help your own club out in the process! The sport needs you. Go Flyball!

Lots of orange at CanAm XII!