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Five reasons to return to the National Buffalo Wing Festival

The National Buffalo Wing Festival is no longer a new event. Though 60,000 to 70,000 people still descend on Coca-Cola Field every year to inhale the wings – one Saturday visitor came from as far as Australia – the novelty for locals has quite worn off. With the festival now celebrating its 15th year, founder Drew Cerza said he recognized the need to shake things up.

So he did.

For one thing, you can finally eat in the shade if you want to.

“For years, people have been asking for covered seating,” Cerza said.

Festivalgoers also flocked to buy new and colorful $2 plastic plates that featured a central beer or soft drink carve-out. Finally, a free hand for wing eating.

The 15th Annual National Buffalo Wing Festival kicks off, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. Three contestants participate in the bobbing for wings contest. With goggles on they pull wings pulled out of a kids pool filled with blue cheese dressing. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Three contestants at the National Buffalo Wing Festival participate in the bobbing for wings contest. With goggles on, they pull wings out of a children's pool filled with blue cheese dressing. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

And that’s not all. From new fryers to a new 5K, here are five new reasons to return to the National Buffalo Wing Festival this year.

• Options to keep cool: The festival boasts a covered eating area with both stand-up bar tables and sit-down eating areas for those who’d rather not bake in the sun for hours. And for $25, festivalgoers can enjoy VIP seating on Coca-Cola Field’s Party Deck.

Still hot? With Sunday’s temperatures expected to reach 80 degrees, festival patrons can cool off in the new misting tent by the main entrance just outside the ballfield.

• Fresher, faster wings: If you’ve been to prior wing fests, there’s a chance your wings were a bit soft and greasy. That’s because the festival fryers had gotten so old that some were taking up to 20 minutes to cook a batch. This year, Cerza said, he invested “a lot” in the purchase of 36 new fryers, which deep-fry wings in 9 minutes and are doing a much better job of keeping up with demand.

• Chicken Wing 5K: Running and wing eating may not seem to go together, but they really do – as long as you run first. The festival is hosting its first ever Chicken Wing 5K Run at 11 a.m. Sunday. If you haven’t signed up, it’s not too late. The race ends in front of the festival entrance, and all participants receive free parking, free entry into the festival, a free beer or other beverage, a technical shirt and $5 in food tickets.

You can register online or in person at The Buffalo News building starting at 8:30 a.m. The race, which costs $35 to enter, starts next to The Buffalo News building on Scott Street, takes a circular route through downtown Buffalo and finishes in front of the entrance to the festival on Exchange Street.

The 15th Annual National Buffalo Wing Festival kicks off, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. Rich Straw of South Buffalo munches on some wings as his girlfriend Jessie Hitman, left, holds their son Richard Straw Jr., 6 weeks, probably the youngest attendee at the festival. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Rich Straw of South Buffalo munches on some wings as his girlfriend Jessie Hitman, left, holds their son Richard Straw Jr., six weeks, likely the youngest attendee at the festival. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

• New app: This year, the festival features a new, free WingFest app that gives users an updated festival map, the list of participating restaurants and their menu items, a scavenger hunt and polls that are eligible for prize drawings, and a place to share social media photos and comments.

Though the app requires your email address and access to your contact list, the app creator promised The News that you and your friends won’t get spammed, and access requirements will be less stringent next year.

• Buffalo Ninja Warrior Challenge: If you’re a fan of the show “American Ninja Warrior,” then try your hand at the obstacle course presented by Buffalo’s Hybrid Fitness Ninja Academy or stay to watch the tournament. A kids tournament will be held from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, and the final adult tournament will run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Expect to run into gym owner Patrick Hall and other former gladiators from the hit show.

The festival opens at noon and closes at 7 p.m. Sunday. The U.S. Chicken Wing Eating Championship starts at 5 p.m.

email: stan@buffnews.com

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