Americans love hot dogs, and in the eyes of many citizens, there is no greater American than the man who can eat the most hot dogs. The Nathan’s Famous Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest takes place every year on July 4th at the site of “Nathan’s Famous” in Coney Island, NY, and this year’s event was a contest worthy of all the hype.

I was on hand at this momentous event, and although I was not garnered with some fancy press pass, I hope to bring to you the very ‘innards’ (to use some hot dog parlance) of what has become the marquee event for our country’s Hot Dog business.

As legend has it – On July 4th, 1916 four immigrants took part in a hot dog eating contest to prove who was the most ‘patriotic’. And in that same spirit of competition and love of country, competitors have gathered to shove sausages and buns in their mouths. In recent years, ESPN has begun covering the event and heralding it as the Superbowl of competitive eating competitions. There is even a video game inspired by event for the Nintento Wii system.

Some numbers to munch on:

  • During National Hot Dog Month (July) Americans eat 2.3 billion hot dogs (8 per person in the country).
  • July 18th is officially known as ‘National Hot Dog Day’.
  • Last year Joey Chestnut won the Nathan’s contest by eating 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes.
  • This year Joey held his title after eating 59 hot dogs in the shortened contest time of 10 minutes. He was tied at the end of regulation time and was forced into a 5 dog sudden death playoff in which he prevailed.
  • Each year the winner received $10,000 and the illustrious ‘Mustard Belt’.
  • The estimated value Nathan’s received from all the publicity and TV coverage of the event is over $39 million.
  • North America’s #1 retailer of cooked hot dogs is 7-Eleven, which sells 100 million each year.
  • Annually, Americans spend over $1.9 billion purchasing hot dogs.
  • New Yorkers eat more hot dogs than any other city.
  • Chicago’s O’Hare airport consumes more than 6 times more hot dogs than NY’s Laguardia and Los Angeles’s LAX combined.

However, those impressive numbers do not do justice to the zeal and passion exhibited each year at Nathan’s.

(here we see the location of the big event. Corner of Surf and Stillwell Ave. at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.)

(They have this giant sign up year round. An homage to the winners of yesteryear along with a giant countdown clock. Also see the famous and inactive ‘Parachute Jump‘ in the background bottom left)

(As you can see prior to the contest, lines to buy Nathan’s dogs are relatively short. With only a 5 minute wait you were able to place your order and enjoy your meat filled bounty.)

(Here’s the basic menu. Some may say $2.95 for a hot dog is overpriced, but I was surprised at the afford-ability of most of the items. Also notice the number of calories per item posted on the menu as per NYC’s new law. )

(Fully staffed and ready to go – Nathan’s was looking clean, organized and primed for the ensuing action.)

(Nathan’s Famous original Frankfurters have that snap/crunch when you first bite into them. Not something you’ll find in those water-logged NYC pushcarts.)

(That large ‘Big Gulp’ sized cup is filled with Killian’s Irish Red beer. Costs only $5.50 and was totally worth it. Each one was better than the last.)

(This excitable little man was the ‘warm up’ act for the contest. He kept running around clapping and acting like mini-Uncle Sam – however he’s supposed to act. Those paper signs say the name of each competitor noting their standing point. Also check out ESPN all ready to do. But wait! A primo advertising opportunity went undetected, someone really should call 966-4986 for next year. Maybe a WSF ad?)

(Eric ‘Badlands’ Booker, a former record holder in the Burrito, Pumpkin Pie, and Hot Dog eating contests, gives a TV interview and impromptu freestyle rap demonstation while confused and uninterested kids look on.)

(Heinz Ketchup gets in on the cross-promotional sponsorship deal in a big way.)

(Former champ, Takeru Kobayashi, who hoped to unseat Joey Chestnut and regain his title had his friends and enemies in the eclectic crowd.)

(The guy bent down on one knee just proposed to his girlfriend on stage. She said yes, and the emcee for the event actually married them right then and there. The emcee said he had become an ordained minister through an online website. It was absolutely beautiful, I’m sure a lot of people

Fast Company: Hot Dog Numerology, July 2008
National Hot Dog and Sausage Council: Vital Hot Dog Statistics, July 2008