FSC’s Belated Coverage of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest
Although the way ESPN has been replaying the event you’d think they were MTV and Nathan’s was some sort of music award show featuring Jessica Alba making out with the Pussy Cat Dolls, Lindsay Lohan, the Olsen twins, Rhiannon and (just for good measure) the mom from “There’s Something About Raymond.” I gotta admit, though, I’m impressed by the sheer amount of screen time Bristol is devoting to the great tubed meat sport. The International Federation of Competitive Eating must be pretty thrilled. I can’t wait for the almost inevitable television coverage of Philadelphia’s Wing Bowl.
My favorite part of the event? The ridiculous hyperbolic announcing. My top three:
- Kobayashi was called the second coming of Babe Ruth and also compared quite favorably to the Celtics and Yankees dynasties
- Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas is – and I’m not making this up – “the Gloria Steinem of the hot dog eating galaxy.” (I don’t even know what that means.)
And my personal favorite,
- “If [Joey] Chestnut can win this thing, it will change this nation.”
If you didn’t know any of those factoids, well, chances are you’re in the majority. But consider yourself educated now… or re-educated, as the sports Maoists like to say.
But there was more to love than announcers who just learned what the word “superlative” means. The introductions of the eaters were fantastic – part wrestling, part All-Star game, everyone got a little love from the commentators and crowd (speaking of which – with an announced 15,000 people attending, there were 60% more people there than at the Major League Lacrosse All Star game in Boston last week). I got to hear about all the records:
- Asparagus: 6.25 pounds in 10 minutes, Joey Chestnut
- Tamales: 41 tamales in 12 minutes, ChipBurger Simpson
- Baked Beans, long course (huh?): 8.4 pounds in 2 minutes, Sonya Thomas
- Buffet: 5.5 pounds of buffet food (nice detail, fellas) in 12 minutes, Crazy Legs Conti
Ok, enough with the making fun. Let’s shower the respect.
To its credit, ESPN actually did what I always slap sports media around for not doing – treating a fringe sport like a sport. The effort to connect Kobayashi to the greats of other sports was clearly an attempt to elevate competitive eating to the same level as more traditional and popular sports. The announcers were informative, clearly explaining the rules and past competitions to newer viewers. And although they said ridiculous over the top things… well, have you heard a sports broadcast recently? They’re all over the top. Hell, all media is over the top, but that’s another column for another site.
And I think I figured ESPN’s coverage of fringe sports that double as mild freak shows (World’s Strongest Man Competition and Highland Games, I’m looking in your direction): sports with inexpensive TV rights; cheap announcers that are happy to get screen time; massive efforts by those announcers to educate viewers, hoping they will come back to watch more; terrific exaggerated descriptions of the contestants and what they do; and lots of weird camera angles to highlight the weirdness of the sport. Seriously, rewatch Nathan’s Famous any one of the many times it’s rerun and you’ll see all of these facets. Then compare it a strong man airing at 2 am on ESPN 2 and the similarities are eerie.
From ESPN’s point of view, it makes a lot of sense: cheap content that might take off, spawning a large audience for little investment. It’s not the best way for fringe sports to gain a following, but it might work. Look at poker.
Oh, but can we please call a spade a spade – Kobyashi did NOT set a new record with 53.75 dogs eaten in 12 minutes. You don’t eat partial dogs. You eat whole dogs. That 3/4 crap was just to appease the crowd and give the folks watching at home a thrill. This sport is getting too corporate.