National Spelling Bee by the numbers: How much is winning worth?

The 2014 National Spelling Bee has high stakes for the best spellers in the English language, who will compete for fame, prize money, and vintage encyclopedias. The National Spelling Bee finals begin Thursday at 8 p.m. EDT on ESPN. 

Balce Ceneta/AP
Christine Alex of Whitney Young Magnet High School, Chicago, spells 'cynosure', during the preliminaries of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Wednesday, May 28, 2014.

Much is at stake for the 281 spellers invited to Washington for the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee, the finals of which kick off Thursday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN after two days of intense competition.

For the best spellers in the English-speaking world, there’s a lot at stake: national fame, thousands in prize money, talk show appearances, and a full set of Encyclopaedia Britannica (yes, it still exists!). How much money will the spellers be competing for?  How many viewers will watch them spell it out? How old is the youngest speller in the bee?  We’ve rounded up the most important numbers you need to know for this competition about words – a fitting tribute, since the most common “favorite school subject” among the competitors is math.

$30,000: The cash prize awarded to the winner of this year’s competition. Spellers who make it to the championship round also receive cash prizes, ranging from $1,500 for seventh place to $12,500 for the runner-up. The prize money is furnished by Scripps, the publishing company that has underwritten the National Spelling Bee since 1939 and also provides the winner’s trophy. The winner also receives a US savings bond worth $2,500 from Merriam-Webster, along with a reference library.

$1,200:  The value of the reference works package the winner gets from Encyclopaedia Britannica, including a replica 1768 deluxe set of encyclopedias, the Britannica world edition, and a three-year membership to Britannica’s premium services, including its atlas. What’s unclear is how long print reference works of any kind will continue to be a prize – Britannica stopped making current editions of its print encyclopedias back in 2012.  

1 million: Roughly the number of viewers who will tune into Thursday night’s finals. The 2012 finals were the most-watched ever on cable, netting about 1.06 million viewers. The spelling bee’s popularity has swelled over the past decade, spawning several feature films and even one long-running musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” That success is due in part to ESPN, which has been broadcasting the national bee since 1994 and can make gripping television out of anything, including (but not limited to) poker and yacht racing.

Eight: The age of this year’s youngest competitor, Hussain A. Godhrawaia from Barnwell, S.C. That’s ancient compared with the Bee’s youngest contestant ever: Lorie Ann Madison competed in 2012 at age 6.

Two: Minutes, the amount of time contestants are given to spell a word. The time limits were first enacted for the national competition in 2004 to conform with TV programming schedules; there are no time limits in local and regional competitions.

Four, 13: The letter lengths of the shortest and longest winning words for the National Spelling Bee, respectively. Daniel Greenblatt won the bee on “luge” in 1984, while seven different 13-letter words have been winners. 

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