What is Nick Lachey up to these days? The 98 Degrees frontman is a dog lover and sports superfan who is plugged in to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this time each year, working as the spokesperseon for Purina Pro Plan's $1 million bracket challenge.
As the 2019 "Barketologist," Lachey is encouraging dog and sports fans alike to fill out a bracket and tune into the dog show Feb. 11-12 for a chance to win $1 million. The winning bracket needs to correctly predict the breed in all seven categories - something that hasn't happened in the challenge's four-year history - and pick the winner of Best in Show.
Sporting News had the opportunity to catch up with Lachey to discuss his partnership with Purina Pro Plan, bracket strategy for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, his Yorki Poo named Wookie, 98 Degrees and Cincinnati sports.
Note: Portions of the interview have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Sporting News: Why did you team up with Purina Pro Plan for the $1 million bracket challenge?
Nick Lachey: I think it's just a great way for more fans to get more involved with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which happens to be every year around this time. This is the fourth year that Purina has done the Pro Plan Bracket Challenge. If you go to proplanbracket.com, you can select your own bracket.
Basically, you're picking a winner from all seven of the groups represented in the show and you also pick your best of show choice. If you get them all right, you have the chance to win a million dollars. If you like to have a little more stake in the game, especially for those who lost a little something on Sunday in the Super Bowl, you have a chance to make up some loses here.
I'm a sports fan across the board. I obviously love dogs as well. I've had a dog for 11 years now. It's just a great way as a sports fan to be involved in the dog show and the whole experience of it.
SN: You're a "barketologist." What does that mean?
NL: It's really one of my favorite things I've heard over the last year, being a "barketologist." Obviously a bracketologist during the basketball season for March Madness is the person who is the expert of bracketology, but I'm the expert barketologist.
SN: So you're an expert in dogs now?
NL: I've been an expert in dogs for years but this is the only time I've been able to unleash my wisdom on the world.
SN: Walk me through your bracket strategy. I see you went with the Siberian usky to win the whole thing … what was your reasoning behind that?
NL: Well, let's start with the German Shepherd because it is actually one of the most popular picks in the bracket. A lot of people like the German Shepherd. I personally chose the German Shepherd because my brother's first dog was a German Shepherd named Luca and he was like my first nephew. I have a special place in my heart for him.
I actually took a personal approach to my bracket. Another example: I picked the Siberian husky because I had a Siberian growing up named Igloo. She was my favorite dog and we literally, all through high school, I'd take her running, so that's why I picked the husky for the working group, as well as best in show. A Siberian black's only win as the best in show was in 1980 so I'm hoping it's time for the Siberian to come back around.
In the toy category, the Yorkshire Terrier, my dog now, Wookie, is half Yorkie, half poodle. He's ineligible to compete in this competition because he's not purebread or I'm sure he'd win it, but that's why I went with the Yorkie there.
In the sporting category, the Labrador retriever. I had a lab right before Wookie, a yellow lab, so I went with the lab there. Funny enough, the lab has never won. As popular as labs are, it's never won the sporting category. It's overdue, well overdue.
In the non-sporting, I picked that dog (Xoloitzcuintli) because I couldn't say its name and I just wanted to hear an announcer attempt to say its name if it won the category. It's a Mexican breed of dog ... we'll see what happens there. I just try to take a personal approach with my picks. I think it's a great way for people to have fun. It doesn't cost anything to enter, you've got nothing to lose and it's a great way to follow along and see what happens.
SN: What about this challenge excites you and why should others go on and pick a bracket for themselves?
NL: I think it's fun. It's a chance to watch along the last couple rounds of the dog show Feb. 11-12, 7:30 ET, FS1). It's just a great way to follow along and watch your bracket unfold and, God-willing, someone will be lucky enough to walk away with $1 million if they get them all right. It's the perfect combination for people who love dogs, as I do, obviously, and it's a spectacle to see this unfold in the dog show every year. But this is a great way with the brackets to put a little stake in the game as well and up the ante - and have fun. It's really about having fun.
SN: The dog show is prestigious going into its 143th years, but it's also hosted at Madison Square Garden, one of the world's most famous arenas. What are you most looking forward to?
NL: The Garden is a special, special place. I think it's a great combination of both things. As you said, the competition has been around so long and has become a staple of the New York landscape this time of year and in the dog world. To have such an iconic event at MSG is only appropriate. MSG is such a special place. I've had the honor to play there myself a few times and there's just something that is extra special about being in that building. I'm looking forward to both.
SN: Tell me a little bit about your pup, Wookie
NL: Wookie, I like to refer to him as our first born. Vanessa and I got him when we were first dating ... he literally was our first child. It's cool to see them become a part of your landscape, you know? The kids love him and play with him, and chase him and harass him and do all things that kids do with dogs. He's definitely a part of the family. He's in every Christmas card we take every year, he's in every family photo, he's part of our brood.
SN: Why Wookie? Big Star Wars fan?
NL: I'm a big Star Wars fan ... when he was a puppy especially, he looked a lot like Chewbacca the Wookie, so that's definitely where he got his name from.
SN: Obedience or agility - which portion of the show would Wookie do best in?
NL: He's definitely strong in the agility category, although he's fairly obedient for a dog. He just turned 11 and so his hearing and eyesight is starting to go a little bit; he's not the performer he once was. ... You wouldn't believe he's 11.
SN: Which 98 Degrees song would you pick as Wookie's warm-up music if he were going to be in a dog show?
NL: "Una Noche" because he's just got one night to pull this thing off.
SN: What's next for 98 Degrees?
NL: We were on tour. We toured this past fall and we toured the year before that as well. We're actually going out and doing a handful of shows this year as well. We are still very much together and love performing together and making music, so we're still very much in the mix.
SN: Do you and Vanessa have any other pets?
NL: We don't, no. Wookie is our lone pet representative right now. We have three kids - 6, 4 and 2 years old. Things, as you could imagine, are a little crazy at our house as it is. We didn't want to introduce another curve ball into the mix but I can say without any question we will have more dogs in the future. We are definitely dog people.
SN: As a big Cincinnati Bearcats fan, are you excited about this year's team? They just cracked the AP Top 25.
NL: Yeah! You've done your research, I like it. I was wondering when they were going to crack the Top 25. It's a younger team, it's one of those teams we can see getting better throughout the year and I think by the time the tournament rolls around they are really going to have hit a stride. I think they could make some noise. It's not the most talented team we've ever had but I like the way they are coming together.
SN: Any bold predictions for the Reds or Bengals ahead of next season?
NL: My bold prediction is that the Reds will be much improved. We've made some significant offseason moves. We've got Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Sonny Gray so I think we've got a chance to be much, much better than we've been the last couple of years, although we finished in last place so there's nowhere to go but up ... I think the Cubs could have an off year, I think the Cardinals are on the way out and I think it's time for the Reds to have their dominance yet again.
As far as the Bengals, a lot of people panicked after the Super Bowl that we're not getting the offensive guru we thought we were but I'm not really concerned about that. We still have a lot of talented pieces there and I think we'll be much improved next year. I'm also an optimist, so ...
SN: Which career highlight is the most memorable?
NL: I've been very, very blessed to do a lot of stuff. I think one of the coolest moments in my career, it happened pretty early on, was a chance to work with Stevie Wonder and record with him and to perform live with him. He's somebody that is obviously a legend in music, but specifically somebody that I really loved and looked up to. Any time you get to meet an idol like that and work alongside of them, that's a pretty awesome thing. So I'll go with that.