Professional sporting events in the U.S. have been at a standstill since early spring, but when it comes to competitive eating, Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest—and its nod to the July Fourth tradition—will live on.
The Coney Island spectacle typically attracts more than 20,000 people watching competitive eaters downing hot dogs during the 10-minute contest with an even larger audience tuning in on national television. While the championship will live on despite the current crisis, there will be one missing component: an audience.
ESPN will air the showdown live on July Fourth beginning at noon ET, but the location will be kept a secret to ward off crowds. In past years, people would start lining up at 8 a.m. along Stillwell and Surf Avenues for a prime seat, but organizers wanted to make sure this year’s event would take place in a more controlled environment with social distancing and health risks in mind.
“We are going to follow all the rules,” says George Shea, the competition’s host and chair of Major League Eating, which oversees the tournament. “This is not a rogue event. This took a very long time to plan.”
Last year’s champions, Joey Chestnut and Miki Sudo—they each stuffed themselves with 74 and 41 hot dogs, respectively—will return to defend their titles. There were 15 entrants each in the male and female divisions in past years, but this year’s event is slated for five total in each group.
While Nathan’s Famous is iconic in New York, the company’s board chairman Howard Lorber faced a backlash in 2018 when it became public that he supported President Donald Trump and held a fundraiser, too.
The event organizers, however, are more focused on the competition as something synonymous with July Fourth festivities. Shea adds that he worked with city officials to make sure guidelines were followed.
“They cleared us, and they seemed supportive of it—recognizing this is an important holiday tradition,” Shea says.
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