By Pete DeLuca
My favorite holiday of the year is rapidly approaching… the Fourth of July! Before you call me crazy, think about it. Barbecues, 3-day weekends, and fireworks – what’s not to love? No gifts to give, no holiday shopping, and no fruit cake.
But it’s not just the pool parties and miniature American flags that have me confessing my love for America’s Birthday. I love the Fourth of July because each year marks another chapter in the rich history that is the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island.
I attended the event in 2009 – not something I am particularly proud of, but as a graduate student spending my first summer living in New York City, I saw the event as opportunity to cross another line off my sports “bucket list”.
If you ever wanted to follow competitive eating, it’s easy. There are really only two names worth knowing; Takeru Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut. Kobayashi became a household name after downing 50 hot dogs in 2001, doubling the previous record set the year before. Because of him, ESPN began airing the contest annually – turning competitive eating into a multimillion dollar business overnight. Kobayashi went on to win the event six times before losing to Chestnut in 2007. Chestnut won each of the last four contests, including 2009 when he ate 68 hot dogs – a feat that I, embarrassingly, was front row-center for.
But 2010 was different. For the first time in nearly a decade, Kobayashi opted out of the contest citing a labor dispute with Major League Eating (MLE) – he wants to have negotiating rights with sponsors for event he attends. Chestnut, who openly admits to not liking Kobayashi, cruised to victory that year and later hinted to reporters that Kobayashi was scared to compete against him. “… He was asking for weird [demands],” said Chestnut. “It seems like he didn’t really want to come.” It was enough to make Kobayashi, who was standing in the crowd, rush the stage and get arrested by security.
Now to 2011 – Kobayashi’s dispute with MLE is still ongoing, and Chestnut looks like a lock for his fifth straight title. But there could be an asterisk next to Chestnut’s name this year. Just a few miles away, at a rooftop restaurant in Manhattan, Kobayashi will be having his own one-man contest – running simultaneously with Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. He will be held to the same rules and standards as the participants in Coney Island and plans to broadcast his performance to increase awareness about the unfair treatment he’s received on behalf of MLE.
Publicity stunt or not - it makes for great television. Sure, it’s not Brady versus Manning or Magic versus Bird - but it’s controversy and it’s entertaining. The contest will air on ESPN this Monday at noon. Over 2 million viewers are expected to watch the event live, and nearly 50,000 plus fans will be in attendance. I won’t be in Coney Island this year, but I certainly will be glued to my television!
Pete DeLuca is Manager of Creative Services at Maroon PR. Contact him at Pete@MaroonPR.com.