SAN DIEGO, Feb 4, 2012 – What’s a television network to do the day of the Super Bowl to compete with the Big Game? Roll over and play dead? Sit up and beg? Whine and whimper?
How about counterprogramming with complete puppy cuteness?
What started as a joke among network executives has become a furry phenomenon for the Animal Planet network. “Puppy Bowl VIII” is expected to draw over 10 million viewers. It’s a far cry from the 110 million who will watch Super Bowl XLVI, but a smashing success for Animal Planet and in raising awareness of shelter and rescue pet adoption across the United States.
The story goes that Animal Planet network executives joked about putting on something no-brainer like the “yule log” on Christmas Eve, like a endless loop of cute puppies on the cable network. The Puppy Bowl was born, and the first edition in 2005 drew 150,000 viewers.
Today, the Puppy Bowl gets big pre-game buildup (like this column), and has sponsors for everything from its Ice Breakers blimp piloted by hamsters and providing the “aerial shots” to the Bissell Kitty Halftime Show. Big name advertisers like Kraft, PEDIGREE, and Disney have been smart to get on the bandwagon and love the growing success of the project. It’s counterprogramming brilliance at its best.
On a more serious note, the program offers the platform for a heartfelt message about the shockingly large number of adoptable pets at shelters and rescue organizations nationwide. Eight to ten million animals end up in America’s shelter and rescue system each year, and as many as four million are euthanized. All of the puppies, kittens, and other pets participating in the Puppy Bowl broadcasts were among these animals waiting for adoption into “furever homes.”
The casting process begins in July. Animal Planet works with the online adoption resource Petfinder.com and invites rescue groups to send headshots of prospective players from nine to 18 weeks old. Producers whittle the group down to about five dozen pups, with 20 chosen for the PEDIGREE starting lineup featured in online profiles. Producers say it’s hard not to say yes to every entrant.
The pets represent 32 different shelter and rescue groups in 20 states from coast to coast. One of this year’s starting players is Hunter, a nine-week old Boxer puppy from GO (Greater Ohio) Boxer Rescue in Dayton, Ohio. Hunter’s mom Sweetpea was confiscated from a puppy mill in Kentucky, and Hunter was part of a litter born in a foster home. Go Boxer Rescue volunteer Patti Kraft sent in Hunter’s photo to Animal Planet and a Puppy Bowl star was born.
Producers say they try to choose a diverse array of breeds and looks. Hunter is a white Boxer and producers say they were taken with his brown eye patch.
Kraft and Hunter were accompanied by Go Boxer Rescue director Rachel Osborn and her Boxer Willie B. to New York for the taping in October. Osborn is vision impaired and Willie B. is also her guide dog. Their story is on the GO Boxer Rescue website and Facebook page.
The puppies are let loose into a play area 19 feet by 10 feet designed to resemble (loosely) a football field with artificial turf and end zones. Puppies are rotated in and out in 20-minute shifts. Nearly 100 people work on the production, and shoot about 70 hours of video with six cameras to get the final two hours of “game time” play. One of the game’s most popular features is the Water Bowl Cam, which provides a view looking up through water dishes sunk into the ground in each end zone. Awww!
Animal Planet says while its audience is mostly women, male viewer numbers were up 69 percent last year over the previous year. Marketing execs love the 726,000 viewers in the golden 25-to-54 year old age group that watch the game according to Nielsen ratings.
An MVP - Most Valuable Puppy – is chosen at the end of each The real MVPs are the many people, both staff and volunteers, who work hard 365 days a year to rescue, foster, care for and place adoptable animals in homes.
All of this year’s puppies including Hunter have been adopted by families since Puppy Bowl VIII’s production, but all the participating shelter and rescue groups emphasize there are many more wonderful puppies, kitties, and adult dogs, purebreds and mixed breeds waiting for homes currently in their care and at sister organizations across the country. Using Petfinder.com is a convenient, effective way to find just the right adoptable pet for you.
George Clooney, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez have all adopted puppies through Petfinder.com in the last few months. Other devoted rescue pet owners and supporters including Mary Tyler Moore, Joanna Krupa, Denise Richards, Bernadette Peters, and perhaps the most outspoken supporter of animal causes through the years, Betty White.
Puppy Bowl VIII will air repeatedly over 12 hours starting at 3 p.m. Eastern Time (12 noon Pacific), so if you’re a football fan and a dog lover, you’ll have time to see both or set your DVR/Tivo. My rescued Boxer Mario and I will be cheering on Hunter and his teammates. We wouldn’t miss it!
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. Read more Media Migraine in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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