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Hot Dog Eating Contest Gives Nathan's Huge Exposure

Tuesday, 5 Jul 2011 | 3:32 PM ET

Companies spend millions of dollars of naming stadiums and doing athlete sponsorship deals, but, as yesterday proved once again, Nathan's has the best marketing deal in sports.

Nathan's Hot Dog Contest
Nathan's Hot Dog Contest

I have no idea how much Nathan's pays the Shea Brothers, who run the sponsorship for Major League Eating and serve as great commentators on the ESPN broadcast. But I don't have to know.

The franchise famous for its hot dogs has to be getting the greatest return on its investment around.

"We safely say that the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest does hundreds of millions of consumer impressions in a 24-hour period," said Rich Shea, president of Major League Eating, who, along with his brother George, has been running the Nathan's publicity associated with this event since 1997.

"I've done an interview for press in every large country," Shea said. "I've been on Al Jazeera. I even did an interview with a journalist who is in Transylvania (a historic region in Romania)."

The publicity has meant more and more to Nathan's as the brand has expanded throughout the country. There are now about 270 restaurants. Only five are owned by corporate and those on the west coast now recognize the name even though there are only a handful of Nathan's in California, Nevada and Arizona.

"The event is fabulous for us," said Wayne Norbitz, who joined Nathan's in 1975 and became its president in 1989. "We're now in 27 states and we're growing. We opened 40 restaurants last year and we'll likely open another 40 this year."

Not only is the exposure good for those that show up to watch the contest live at the corner of Surf and Stillwell at the original Nathan's on Coney Island (Norbitz said police told him there were 40,000 people yesterday), it's also good that the event is broadcast on ESPN.

"ESPN is huge for us," a giddy Norbitz, who said Nathan's had a record $282 million in gross sales last year. Not only do they run a live one-hour show, but ESPN re-broadcasts the whole thing at 8 pm (ET) again."

ESPN pays a rights fee. Shea wouldn't say how much but did joke, "I'm thinking it's slightly less than their Monday Night Football deal."

Putting Nathan's hot dogs in more than 30,000 supermarkets in 50 states has allowed them to further capitalize on the hot dog eating contest success as they continue to grow their restaurants.

Last year, Nathans sold 453 million hot dogs, which doubled the amount of hot dogs they sold in 2004. Supermarket sales also doubled over the ten-year period from 2001 to 2010.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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