The competitive eating world has been upended: Competitive eater Joey Chestnut, who holds a record of 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes, announced this week via X that he will not be competing in this year’s Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog-eating contest, which he has won 16 times. Major League Eating, which puts on the event in partnership with Nathan’s, has described Chestnut as “the greatest eater in history.”

Chestnut wrote on X: “I was gutted to learn from the media that after 19 years I’m banned from the Nathan’s July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest.” In a subsequent post, he elaborated: “To set the record straight, I do not have a contract with MLE or Nathans and they are looking to change the rules from past years as it relates to other partners I can work with.”

But according to George Shea, co-founder of MLE, that’s not quite the case. Here’s what you need to know about the hot dog contest controversy — and why it might not be the end of Joey Chestnut’s involvement.

What is the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest?

The contest pits competitors against each other to see how many hot dogs they can eat in 10 minutes. The event as we now know it — an athletic display of stomach-stretching capabilities that’s performed in front of a huge audience — has been happening since 1972. It always takes place on the Fourth of July at Coney Island in Brooklyn and is also broadcast on ESPN. A hot dog-eating contest is central to the lore of Nathan’s famous: The story goes that four immigrants competed over eating hot dogs back at the Nathan’s stand in 1916 as an act of patriotism.

So is Joey Chestnut banned from competing at the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest?

First off, “he’s not banned from the contest,” Shea says. “We would love to have him there. We are trying to resolve this, and we hope to resolve this.” The problem lies with a deal that Chestnut brought to MLE.

What it comes down to, as the New York Post first reported, is a brand partnership between Chestnut and Impossible Foods, which is launching a vegan hot dog. (While Chestnut hasn’t yet identified Impossible specifically, the Athletic confirmed the partnership with the company.) That’s the one thing Chestnut — or any other athlete — has never been able to endorse as a participant in the Nathan’s contest, Shea says: “For 20 odd years, Joey has competed, and the simple, single, relevant exclusivity clause says that he can’t represent another hot dog brand. That has always been the way it is; nothing has changed.”

Why does Nathan’s care that Chestnut has a different endorsement?

Nathan’s cares so much because it’s another hot dog brand, and this is Nathan’s big event to promote its hot dogs. Accordingly, hot dog exclusivity is a fundamental element “that is part and parcel of the event,” Shea says. “This is the Nathan’s event. The champion of the Nathan’s event can’t say, ‘Yeah, I’m here to win the Nathan’s contest, but I represent X.’ That’s really where the conflict resides.”

In fact, Shea says, the MLE is happy to accommodate secondary sponsorships so long as they’re not from competing hot dog brands. These have included brands like Pepcid and Pepto-Bismol, he points out. Chestnut has, for example, partnered with Pepto-Bismol in the past, and according to Shea, this would have been no problem at all if Chestnut had “gotten to be the sponsor of an automobile brand or a tire brand or a roofing brand — you name it.” Basically, anything but a hot dog.

Is this sponsorship rule different from previous Nathan’s competitions?

Despite Chestnut’s statement that the rules have changed, Shea says this is not the case and that hot dog exclusivity has always been a part of the participation agreement. Sponsorships have created some issues in the past, but seemingly not to this level. Generally, it’s more around the question of the timing of sponsorship announcements. “The general answer is stuff always comes up, no big deal,” Shea says. One high profile dispute happened in 2010, when star eater Takeru Kobayashi faced contract issues with the MLE over an exclusivity contract that limited him to MLE events. Chestnut defeated Kobayashi for the first time in 2007, setting off his current winning streak.

Can there even be a Nathan’s contest without Joey Chestnut?

With Chestnut’s “spellbinding appeal” and, for many, his ubiquity with the Nathan’s contest, it’s a tough loss for anyone interested in competitive eating. After all, Chestnut has dominated the contest for nearly two decades. Shea, however, remains optimistic that Nathan’s, MLE, and Chestnut can resolve the situation. According to Shea, they’re willing to figure out the situation right down to the last minute. “Joey is never banned. He’s a hero. He is freedom made man, in my opinion,” he says.

2024-06-12T21:08:24Z dg43tfdfdgfd