On July 4th, defending champion Joey “Jaws” Chestnut won Nathan’s annual Hot Dog Eating Contest. Guzzling 75 hot dogs in 10 minutes, he topped his 2018 record by one.
Although the competition was somewhat different this year, still, it was about more than food.
Nathan’s Competitive Eating
Because of the coronavirus, rather than 15, the men’s and women’s competition each had five contestants, socially distanced, divided by plexiglass. And, located indoors, with no wildly cheering fans they could only hear each other’s burps and gulps.
This was the contest:
At 48.5, the women’s winner, Miki Sudo, topped everyone except Joey::
As Chestnut explained, “It was hard,…I knew I was fast in the beginning. It was like blistering speed. And the dogs were cooked really well.” He also said that being indoors with air conditioning instead of sweltering outdoors could have helped his intake. He consumed somewhere close to 21,750 calories. Meanwhile, the female champ said that she and her boyfriend, Nick Wehry (in 3rd place), had three practice eating dates. Together they consumed 90 hot dogs.) :
Joey Chestnut is up there with other world class athletes:
Today’s Competitive Eating
At the Major League Eating website, I checked out some of the upcoming contests. While Nathan’s July Fourth hot dog contest is the Super Bowl of eating events, there are many more during the year. They include pizza, Buffalo Wings, Ramen (that Joey Chestnut also won) and tacos. For the cookies and milk competition, the winner downed 48 Oreos and a half gallon of milk in 2 minutes and 28 seconds. The prize purse for most of these events is approximately $12,000.
Our Bottom Line: Thinking at the Margin
An economist might say that competitive eating is all about the margin. Defined as where we add something extra, the margin can refer to the extra winning points (margin of victory) or the extra sales dollars (marginal revenue) or a longer airport runway (a margin of safety).
In 2001, the competitive eating margins changed radically after Kobi (Takeru Kobayashi) figured out how to eat much faster. Pre-Kobi, people were just eating their normal way. They gulped down a hot dog and a bun, drank some water and started all over again. Kobi realized that the buns could slide down your throat as easily as the hot dogs. Using water, you just needed to squeeze them into moist balls. And the rest is history.
Rather than 25 hot dogs, in 2001, the top eaters began devouring more than 50 in just 10 minutes. Now they are up to 75:
We could add here that with more competitive eating capacity human capital also expanded (or declined).
My sources and more: This Sporkful podcast is the perfect way to learn about the economics of competitive eating while the NY Times and ESPN has this year’s contest facts. Then, here is more on the Sudo/Wehry eating date and for some analysis I recommend Quartz and CBS News. Finally, if you still want more, do look at the Bleacher Report and Major League Eating.
Please note that several of today’s sentences were in a previous econlife post.