Spike bellies up to major eaters


Spike TV has acquired an appetite for competitive eating.

The male-targeted network has struck a deal with Major League Eating to telecast four competitive-eating events this year, starting with "MLE: St. Patrick's Day Chowdown" on March 17.

The inaugural St. Patrick's Day event will take place in Savannah, Ga., on the banks of the Savannah River during what is said to be one of the country's largest celebrations on that day. It will involve such foods as corned beef and cabbage and beef tongue in the preliminary rounds and green donuts in the final round, during which the top two eaters from the earlier rounds will face off. Spike will air same-day tape of the event from 7-8 p.m.

"Guys are hungry for new and exciting sports on television that satisfy their craving for gut-busting action," Spike TV general manager Kevin Kay said. "Spike TV is proud to be the new television home of competitive eating."

Such networks as ESPN, Discovery Channel and MTV have aired programming featuring competitive eaters or competitions like MLE's Nathan's Famous July 4th International Hot Dog Eating Championship, which ESPN has broadcast live from Coney Island in New York since 2004, but this marks Spike's first foray into the "sport" and the first multievent television deal for MLE.

Competing in the St. Patrick's Day event will be Takeru Kobayashi, Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, "Humble" Bob Shoudt and ChipBurger Simpson. MLE chairman George Shea and MLE president Richard Shea will host the telecast.

"We're excited to be working with the network," Richard Shea said. "Competitive eating will resonate with the Spike audience, and we're excited that this will be a new audience for us. This also underscores the growth of our sport from sideshow into the mainstream."

The plan is to air one event per quarter, with the other three events yet to be determined.Brian Diamond is senior vp sports and specials at Spike, while Peter Symuleski is the executive in charge of production at Spike TV. David Baer is executive producer for Shea Baer Prods., which will produce the series.

MLE produces events in the U.S., England, Japan, Germany, Thailand and Canada, with 100 events taking place last year. The organization was developed by the International Federation of Competitive Eating, which the Sheas established in 1997.