Nathan’s hot dog eating contest makes the company’s pockets as full as its contestants

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

There are many things about the world we may never know. We may never know how the universe began. We may never know the true meaning of life. Perhaps most importantly, we may never know why we enjoy watching men and women forcefully consume a grotesque amount of hot dogs every Fourth of July as part of Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. To Nathan’s Famous Inc., it doesn’t matter — as long as we continue to marvel at what is now called Major League Eating.

Tens of thousands of Americans migrated to Coney Island, N.Y., and nearly two million more tuned into ESPN for the 39th annual running of Major League Eating’s biggest competition of the year, which has proved to be marketing gold for Nathan’s Famous Inc. (Joey Chestnut won for the eighth time.)

With the contest’s recent ascension to notoriety in the past decade, Nathan’s Famous Inc. has seen its earnings rise accordingly. The company has seen a profit for the ninth consecutive year and reported close to $90 million in revenue in the past fiscal year with sales rising 17 percent.

While this remarkable performance is not solely a result of the annual contest, the marketing opportunities it presents play an immense role in the company’s impressive financial run. Company President Wayne Norbitz stated in an interview with CNN, that he believes the contest “is one of the greatest marketing stunts ever put forth in the United States.”

Richard Shea, who promotes the event alongside his brother George, believes the ingenious marketing scheme is quite simple: “There are so many things you can make competitive, compelling, and then use those as a platform for all these brands looking for eyeballs.”

The nation’s premier hot dog manufacturer has recently agreed to a contract extension with ESPN to televise the competition through 2024, effectively putting the savory image of Nathan’s Famous hot dogs in the minds of Americans for at least the next 10 years — all without spending a dime. In fact, they are paid a fee by ESPN for the right to broadcast the event.  Pepto Bismol — a brand contestants might look to after a competition like this — has joined as a sponsor of the event this year, further affirming the incredible marketing masterpiece that is Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

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