Nathan's hot dog eating contest will be really different this year

Fans won't be able to watch the event in person this year.
Top Speed Eaters Compete In Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest
Joey Chestnut will return to the annual competition this year but fans will have to cheer him on from afar.Monika Graff / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Every year, upwards of thousands of spectators gather on Coney Island to witness Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. But with coronavirus still spreading and large gatherings still considered risky, adoring onlookers will have to settle for watching the annual competition from afar this year.

For the first time ever, the popular event will be held inside in a large, open warehouse-like space rather than an outdoor public location. Since contestants will be properly spaced out, the number of participants in each competition will also be limited, with only five eaters on hand for each round, as opposed to the typical 15-20.

George Shea, Chair of Major League Eating (MLE), the company behind the crowd favorite competition, told TODAY Food that event organizers are taking extra safety precautions to keep contestants and officials healthy.

"We will be extremely careful and follow all the safety guidelines we can. We will social distance, require masks, test all eaters and MLE staff in advance, have extensive cleaning, and other measures to provide the safest environment possible," he said.

Contestants will be seated at a 30-foot-long table and separated by six feet, with the emcee standing six feet back. Staff at the event will all wear masks and gloves and the eaters will have several large plates of hot dogs in front of them to reduce interaction.

The annual event dates back to 1916, when Nathan Handwerker first opened his legendary restaurant, and has been airing on ESPN for the past 17 years. According to the Wall Street Journal, Nathan's Famous typically sells up to 15,000 hot dogs on the 4th of July thanks to large crowds for the event.

Every year, event organizers donate 100,000 Nathan's Famous hot dogs to Food Bank for New York City. This year's event will also help raise money and awareness for food banks in addition to honoring essential workers in New York City.

"While this contest will be remarkably different than it usually is, we hope it provides some sports action to fans and levity to all as we celebrate Independence Day," Shea said.

This year's contest will seem a bit different without a crowd, but viewers can still look forward to watching returning favorites Joey Chestnut (San Jose, CA) and Miki Sudo (Torrington, CT). Fan favorite Chestnut is a 12-time champion and holds the world record for eating 74 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes.

You can tune in to ESPN at noon ET on July 4 to check out all the action!