Iconic hot-dog eating contest seeks traditional excitement without Coney Island crowds

Officials believe it will be Nathan's Famous most widely-viewed competition yet

Ten contestants will flex their binge-eating chops Saturday at the annual Nathan’s Famous July Fourth hot dog-eating contest, but they won't be cheered on by the usual droves of spectators with foam hot dog hats, plastic noisemakers and homemade signs.

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"While we won't have the crowd, I think we will have the same level of excitement," Nathan's senior vice president of restaurants James Walker told FOX Business on Friday.

During the one-hour televised event on ESPN, five men and five women will gather at a venue in the greater Coney Island area whose location has been kept under wraps to avoid spectators gathering and potentially spreading COVID-19, the viral pandemic that shuttered the U.S. economy earlier this year and has reshaped American lifestyles.

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Nathan’s July 4th hot-dog eating contest in Coney Island, New York, on July 4, 2019. (Paul Martinka)

They'll feast in air-conditioned comfort, rather than chowing down in the often-broiling heat, and the facility will be protected by an array of coronavirus-related safety measures.

While the event will lack the Coney Island boardwalk crowd, it may nonetheless be the most widely watched contest in the competition's history, Walker said. One reason is that it won't be competing with other major televised events such as Wimbledon.

Nathan’s July 4th hot-dog eating contest in Coney Island, New York, on July 4, 2019. (Paul Martinka)

Safety measures, under consideration since March, including trimming the number of participants from the usual 15 men and 15 women. Everyone who enters the contest must wear a mask and undergo a temperature check, and competitors will be placed at least six feet apart with plexiglass barriers between them.

Judges, wearing face masks and shields, will be kept at least six feet back, and the stage will be thoroughly sanitized between the men's and women's championships.

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Eating indoors may give the contestants an edge this year, and Walker believes he'll even see another record set.

Nathan’s July 4th hot-dog eating contest in Coney Island on July 4, 2019 (Paul Martinka).
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For fans who can't watch the event in person but still want to put some skin in the game, it will be open to legal betting in three states -- New Jersey, New Hampshire and Colorado -- for the first time in its history.

Last year, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut ate 71 wieners and buns to secure his 12th title, while Miki Sudo won the women’s competition with 31 hot dogs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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