Who cares about the Super Bowl? Certainly not local sports fans in this town. It’s the Philadelphia Eagles’ arch NFC East rivals, the New York Giants, vs. the team that thrashed us in our last Super Bowl appearance, the New England Patriots. It is fortunate we have other diversions like hosting our own long-running annual professional sports championship this weekend — WING BOWL XX!!!!
For those of you who don’t follow eating competitions, Wing Bowl, hosted by local radio sports talk channel WIP, has grown from a couple guys sitting around a hotel-hosted wingfest into a Lollapalooza of an event that draws over 20,000 crazy fans who sell out the Wells Fargo Center weeks in advance. It is hard to describe this spectacle — it is part indoor Mummers Parade/Mardi Gras; part burlesque show thanks to hordes of barely clad Wingettes, and part fall of the Roman Empire complete with vomitorium.
Wing Bowl may sound like a slapdash affair, but it has grown from an amusing radio stunt conceived by Morning Team co-host Al Morganti into a mega-event that requires weeks of on-air and remote appearance screenings of professional (and amateur) eaters, Wingette girls, and event promotions. The City and the Wells Fargo Center has to prepare for an army of early a.m. drunks, carefully managing traffic and parking, and even closing FDR Park across the street to keep it from becoming a tailgate city. The planning of D-Day looks spontaneous by comparison.
Like all good radio contests, zaniness abounds in Wing Bowl. My favorite of many laugh-out-loud moments over the past few weeks was listening to the Morning Team try out a strange fellow who won entry by eating five pounds of canned pineapples. Host Angelo Cataldi surprised his audience by asking the man’s religious affiliation following this tough gastric challenge, because he wanted to know if he was related to a past Wing Bowl contestant. Stagename: The Acidic Jew.
In spite of all the good-natured carousing and silliness, Wing Bowl is a serious competition, this year pitting 27 eating-stunt-tested contestants. Past winners like Super Squibb and El Wingador went elbow-to-elbow against a variety of past contestants and newcomers. Incredibly, the legendary Kobayashi, perhaps best known as the champion of other professional eating competitions like Coney Island’s hot dog eating competition, bested not only these all-time greats, but broke the all-time record by eating a jaw-dropping 337 wings. You can read all about it here and here. Or watch coverage here.
The other winners? Smart retail marketers like jeweler Steven Singer and Barb’s Harley-Davidson, who actively take part in the festivities and pony up the major prizes. You can’t buy this kind of publicity (well, actually they do), but it is ongoing, associative, and branded all over the place.
Wing Bowl may not succeed in making Philly sports fans forget that they are not in the Super Bowl this weekend. But kudos to the gang at WIP for creating their own mega-event that is fun, wildly unpredictable, and uniquely and exclusively Philadelphia.