The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on ESPN didn’t hit an all-time low in TV ratings this year, but the annual July 4 special was unable to crack one million total viewers.
Saturday’s socially distanced version of the Coney Island staple averaged 966,000 viewers, which is the lowest draw for an initial airing of the contest since 2005. Back then, the niche “sport” received 860,000 viewers.
At the time, the new-to-TV contest was in its cultural infancy, and was dominated by Japanese eater Takeru Kobayashi. It is now much more mainstream.
This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event was held indoors with plexiglass partitions between the “athletes” and their gross work stations. Travel restrictions narrowed the field of competitors to only five men and five women. Americans Joey Chestnut and Miki Sudo won — again.
In 2005, which again is the last time the Nathan’s event had lower television viewership, Kobayashi won his fifth-straight Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. He would win again in ’06, and then his dominance was exceeded.
The following year, Chestnut won for the first time, unseating King Kobayashi. Chestnut would go on to win a remarkable 13 of the next 14 years, falling only to fellow American competitive eater Matt Stonie in 2015.
This year, Chestnut down 75 dogs and buns. Sudo, who claimed her sixth-straight first-place finish in the women’s division, gobbled down 48.5 hot dogs and buns. Both of those are world records in their respective divisions.
In the annual event sponsored by the hot dog brand, competitors are given 10 minutes to eat as much as they can stomach. The popular winning strategy includes ripping the hot dogs in half and dunking them in drinking water. It helps the hot dogs go down, but makes ours want to come up.
ESPN acquired the TV rights to the contest in 2003. Since 2004, the event has been airing live.