How many watched Joey Chestnut gobble hot dogs and headlock a guy? Sports on TV

America still loves to watch sweaty people horking down piles of hot dogs on a sweltering Independence Day — and this year’s Super Bowl of competitive eating even included the nation’s dog-chomping GOAT briefly putting a guy in a headlock.

We’re talking about the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, which returned after two years to its traditional Coney Island location in Brooklyn. And yes, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut won for the seventh straight time and 15th overall.

How many people watched? A lot, but it’s complicated, like everything else about TV these days, to explain. The live broadcasts were on ESPN’s sibling networks that aren’t tracked by Nielsen, the network said, but the men’s event replay on ESPN itself at 4 pm Monday averaged 1.03 million viewers.

That tops 2020 — just about everything tops 2020 — but is about 350,000 fewer than last year or pre-pandemic 2019. Airing on Big ESPN will always command more eyeballs.

Between the live broadcasts and the replays later in the day, the frank-chowin’ probably did earn ESPN a healthy total combined audience — healthy for business, not the contestants’ sodium and cholesterol levels — and that was among the viewership best for sports over the last week, based on ShowBuzz Daily’s weekly tally.

Men’s hot dog contest on ESPN

Year Viewership Network Winner


1.03 million


Joey Chestnut (63 hot dogs)


1.35 million


Joey Chestnut (76)




Joey Chestnut (75)


1.36 million


Joey Chestnut (71)


1.14 million


Joey Chestnut (74)


1.11 million


Joey Chestnut (72)


1.32 million


Joey Chesnut (70)

The 2020 contest was the least-watched broadcast of the event since 2005, when just 860,000 watched live.

Why did the eating contests end up on the smaller channels?


The hot-dog-eating orgy has traditionally aired live mostly on ESPN or ESPN2. But because of Wimbledon — ESPN has had the sole US media rights with the All England Lawn Tennis Club since 2011 and extended them last summer through 2035 — the hot dog contests got shoved out of the main lineup.

The women’s portion of the event aired live at 10:45 am on ESPN3, and saw Miki Sudo return after a year off to win again with 40 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

The dudes’ contest aired at noon on ESPNEWS. Chestnut, who was in a walking cast for a lower leg injury, housed 63 wieners and buns in 10 minutes, which was off his record pace of 76 set a year ago. He still won on Monday by 15 dogs, earning him his seventh consecutive title.

On social media, people have taken to calling the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Chestnut’s performance while hurting the equivalent of Michael Jordan’s “flu game” that saw him score 38 points in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals while sick.

All in good fun, of course, but there’s little doubt that Chestnut, 38, is the greatest competitive eater this nation has ever produced, a fact that must plague the ghost of poor King George III, who literally couldn’t have imagined England’s former colonies celebrating independence with a national TV broadcast of Major League Eating’s signature event.

What a country!

And it gets better/weirder.

When Chestnut was at 17 hot dogs, a protestor in a cheap Darth Vader mask got on stage next to him and held up a small black and white sign that read, “EXPOSE SMITHFIELD’S DEATH STAR” which reportedly was a reference to Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, a major food supplier that has been in the crosshairs of animal rights title.

The Vader character bumped into Chestnut, who swiftly put him in a headlock and tossed him backwards to where event staff hustled him away. Such drama! I asked Darren Rovell, the Action Network sports business analyst who convinced ESPN to air the contest in 2004 when he worked in Bristol, if this was the craziest Nathan’s contest he’s seen, and his response was YES.

If not for the incident, Chestnut may have ingested a few more encased meat tubes live on national television, but we’ll never know.

Nathan’s Famous said it donated 100,000 hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City prior to Monday’s contests.

One final note: Ketchup is the best condiment for hot dogs, not mustard. Feel free to politely disagree in the comments, but you’re wrong.

TENNIS: ABC’s Wimbledon coverage over the weekend averaged 1.7 million viewers on Saturday and 1.5 million on Sunday, per ESPN (which handles ABC sporting events for joint owner Disney). The weekend’s peak viewership was 2.2 million at 4 pm Sunday, and the first full week of coverage on ABC and ESPN has averaged 627,000 viewers — a 35 percent increase over 2021.

PRO FOOTBALL: The rebooted-but-different-entity USFL ended its inaugural season on Sunday with the Birmingham Stallions winning a championship game thriller, 33-30, over the Philadelphia Stars at the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s stadium in Ohio. The game averaged 1.51 million viewers on Fox (the title game will alternate years between Fox and NBC), which is a solid number for a property that wasn’t over-hyped. Still, that’s about half of the simulcast season opener on Fox and NBC. Sunday’s primetime telecast peaked at 1.83 million viewers between 10:30 and 10:45 pm, per Fox. For full coverage of how the USFL completed a full season after so many other spring football leagues have failed, click here.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Are you geeked for a classic late-season Big Ten battle in the snow when UCLA and Rutgers square off? Or munching some In-N-Out Burger when Maryland takes on USC in LA’s September sunshine?

Bro, what?

Yes, the Big Ten added the Bruins and Trojans to form basically will become one of two super conferences (I’m still not entirely over Penn State joining in 1990, much less Maryland, Rutgers and Nebraska, and now USC and UCLA!). The SEC is the other football-cash-is-king conference, of course. The Big Ten will have 16 member schools starting in 2024. The Athletic‘s Richard Deitsch has a great breakdown on what the means for media here.

HOCKEY: In more draft news, the NHL player selection event’s first round will air live from 7 to 10 pm Thursday on ESPN and ESPN+ live from Bell Center in Montreal. Rounds 2-7 will air Friday starting at 11 am on ESPN+ and NHL Network.

BASKETBALL: ABC will air the 18th WNBA All-Star Game live from Chicago’s Wintrust Arena at 1 p.m. Sunday. The skill competition airs live on ESPN at 3 pm Saturday.

AUTO RACING: Spain’s Carlos Sainz Jr. won Sunday’s British Grand Prix, and ESPN enjoyed what it said is the biggest American TV audience for that particular F1 race at 1.23 million viewers on ESPN2. That’s up 18 percent over 2021 and is part of the rise in F1’s popularity in the States, which the network said is averaging 1.3 million viewers this season.

All viewership data is from Nielsen and Adobe Analytics, and other metrics via the TV networks, Nielsen, Sports Media Watch, ShowBuzz Daily and the leagues. All times Eastern unless otherwise noted.

(Photo: NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx via AP)


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