(RNN) – Aside from the notable Nathan's Hot Dog eating contest every July 4, most people don't know about the ever-expanding world of Major League Eating.
They also will never be introduced to a national stage like this:
"He lost his arm to a Bengal tiger in a boyhood visit to the Atlanta zoo - but his arm grew back. He can speak Neutrinos – the language of the sun – and all day long he listens to the conversations in the sky," said George Shea in front of 40,000 people at Coney Island as he announced a competitor ready to scarf down hot dogs.
Shea is the chairman and media relations maven of the MLE, once lost in obscurity and now the backdrop of 60 to 80 contests a year with several dozen corporate sponsors – Coca Cola, Heinz Ketchup, Old Navy and Hooters - and a growing popularity. The MLE is a part of the International Federation of Competitive Eating.
He is as much a part of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest as the people on stage furiously shoveling of hot dogs in their mouths. The contest draws crowds similar to fireworks shows across Independence Day. Shea says he loves announcing the competitions, hosting 15 to 20 each year.
He began hosting Nathan's in 1991, and is getting ready to host the Hooters World Wing Eating Championship on July 25 in Clearwater, FL. Shea said prior to his involvement, there was no booming voice for competitive eating – just the competition itself.
"The announcing evolved over the years, becoming a more critical component of the event," said Shea. "Most of the announcing I have done is competitive eating, but I have also hosted other events for Netflix and other brands. I love hosting. I would host a sweet sixteen party. I would host a Tupperware party."
Shea's creativity was on display Thursday. The introductions are all his brain child, pieces of art he works on year-round.
"I write things down all year round that strike me as interesting or funny or compelling, and I use that to help develop the individual introductions for the eaters," Shea said. "They are the hardest to prepare for because they are live, there is a limited amount of time, and you have to get them right."
One thing Shea and MLE have gotten right - the media draw of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating contest, which, according to the MLE website, has received higher ratings than any Major League Baseball telecast also on July 4.
MLE has catapulted many otherwise average overeaters into superstardom: the ladies hot dog eating champion Sonya Thomas, Patrick Bertoletti, Eater X Tim Janus, Bob Shoudt and the current seven-time hot dog champion and holder of several other records Joey Chestnut.
"Joey is a gamer, he is a competitor, and he will not stop until he wins. He also recognizes that it is his role to be the champion of the world on July 4, and he respects that and he is a great champion," Shea said. "Joey Chestnut is the seven-time Nathan's Famous champion of the world. But, in truth, he is simply The Champion of the World."
In addition to the national draw, MLE provides its on men and women competitions and world rankings for its competitors, and has expanded to a national stage.
"Most of our contests are in the U.S., but we typically hold six to 10 events each year overseas in locations such as Thailand, Ireland, Australia, England," said Shea.
Many of the contests include foods everyone enjoys: chicken wings, pizza, Ramen, oysters, ribs, various sandwiches, desserts and international foods like kimchi, gyro and gyoza.
But nothing beats the classic competition of Nathan's.
"Nathan's is the oldest of old-school New York," said Shea. "It is a brand that represents the very best of America and summer and July 4. People love Nathan's and the event, and that is why it is so much fun. We have people come back year after year, arriving as early as 8 a.m. They have become friends of mine. The whole thing is great."
Until next July 4, Shea will be busy continuing to develop the competitions' vibe and tone. Until then, allow this year's introductions reverberate in your head until the next televised eating competition.
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