Never has watching strangers gorge on 10 hot dogs each looked as beautiful to Chris McComas as it did on April 25.
McComas, the co-founder of Lakewood Ranch's MVP Sports and Social organization, set up the hot dog eating contest in partnership with Skyline Chili. The contestants bought their dogs, logged into a Zoom call and started eating. When MVP released a video of the event, it came complete with humorous "player profiles" and commentary from local podcaster Cody Smith. The video was a huge hit with MVP's athletes, McComas said.
The eating contest was part of the company's Quarantine Cup, a new event that McComas will run as long as group sports are unable to be played. Each week, MVP Sports hosts three to five events over a Zoom call. These events range from MVP staples like cornhole, where players take turns shooting on their own boards, to non-sports events like "name that tune" music trivia and drinking games like flip cup and beer pong.
Players get five points for participating in an event, and winners get an additional 15 points, while second place gets 10 and third place gets five. These points accumulate over the course of the Cup, and whenever it ends — which will be whenever normal sports can resume, McComas said — the top-three finishers will receive a prize pack from MVP.
"A few days before the NBA stopped its season (March 12), we had a feeling something big might be happening," McComas said. "We starting planning for this scenario back then. As much as we do sports, we are also a social club. For some of our players, MVP is almost their entire social life, they play in almost every sport we have. We knew there would be people living alone through this and we did not those people to feel isolated. We wanted to take care of the people who take care of us and give them something to do."
Participation in the Quarantine Cup is free. McComas said the company never considered charging for it, not with everything going on. McComas said MVP has had approximately 250 people participate in the Cup.
McComas said the work that goes into the event is something he did not anticipate. He said a game of "name that tune" music trivia can take him 4-5 hours of prep work between selecting good songs, deciding which clips to use, cutting out the clips and sequencing them in an entertaining way. For that reason, he will not keep the event running once quarantine is over, though he would not rule out keeping the online games around as a paid secondary offering.
"We may have found a cool niche here," McComas said. "Some people may prefer staying home on a weeknight and playing a game from their couch."
One thing that was never in doubt — MVP's ability to entertain. McComas said the company has been about having a good time, in all aspects. The Quarantine Cup is an extension is that, even if McComas has to moonlight as a trivia host from time to time.
"The idea has been met with overwhelming positivity," McComas said. "It has been a strange pivot for me, but I have gotten better at running the events. It makes me happy to see people having a great time.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.