When the Miss America Competition returns to Boardwalk Hall in September, it will do so with one of the most significant assistance packages in the organization's history.
Not only will Miss America get $7.3 million from state authorities over the next three years, the organization will receive many other perks, including free use of Boardwalk Hall, hundreds of free hotel rooms and thousands of discounted rooms.
There will be free meals and transportation, a night out for the contestants and a post-crowning party, among other freebies, according to the organization's contract, obtained through an Open Public Records Act request.
In exchange, the newly crowned Miss America will become the official spokeswoman for Atlantic City. Television interviews will be opportunities to promote Atlantic City whenever possible.
Expansive views of the city projected onto the stage during the broadcast aren't just an idea from producers; they're required under the contract for this year and the following two competitions. During the competition that will be aired by ABC on Sept. 15, the city is guaranteed an eight-minute promotional segment.
"Miss America had to come back to Atlantic City, and to be frank, Miss America wanted to come back to Atlantic City. So the question becomes, what does it take?" said Jeff Guaracino, a spokesman for the Atlantic City Alliance, which will provide hotel rooms, meals and more for the organization. "I think we have to look at Miss America as not just a single event but as part of a larger strategy, one tool in the toolbox for all of the organizations involved and the state."
Those organizations - the alliance, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and its Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority division - have taken steps to protect their investment and ensure it will pay off for the city.
ABC has agreed to air the pageant through 2016, but, if for any reason, Miss America loses that contract, it would lose its agreement with the Atlantic City organizations - unless it found a home on another major television network. The acceptable choices are NBC, ABC, CBS, CW or Fox, the contract states.
"Using the power of television is part of the strategy of getting out the message of the new Atlantic City," Guaracino said. "If people haven't been there themselves and haven't seen a new image of the city, we find that people imagine blue-haired ladies getting off a casino bus, or something that isn't clean and safe."
The Miss America Organization declined to be interviewed regarding its contract in Atlantic City.
It's nearly impossible to directly compare the organization's previous arrangements with its current contract in Atlantic City, in part because the terms of previous arrangements have not been fully public.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority would not disclose what the Miss America Organization received through that authority during its years in Nevada. Rob Dondero, executive vice president of R&R Partners, which does media buys for the authority, characterized the financial assistance as a figure in the low-to-mid-six-figure range.
By contrast, the organization will receive about $2.4 million to $2.5 million a year from the CRDA and ACCVA, most of which supplements production costs that are expected to be $4.3 million this year.
Other Las Vegas benefits flowed through Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, where the competition took place. Exactly what those benefits amounted to isn't clear. Bonnie Gilmour, a Las Vegas-based spokeswoman for Caesars Entertainment, Planet Hollywood's parent company, said the company does not share deal points related to its partnerships.
"We were obviously surprised when we learned of Miss America's decision," Dondero said. "To say that we could not offer what New Jersey offered would be accurate."
Miss America left Atlantic City following the 2004 competition. Then-CEO Art McMaster told officials the organization faced bankruptcy if it didn't leave.
ACCVA President Jeff Vasser said at the time the organization's production costs were just more than $1 million, with the ACCVA providing $720,000 in production credits. In exchange, the organization provided tickets, program booklets and some advertising. Vasser knew only the details of the ACCVA's contract with the organization, however. The organization was known to have arrangements with the casinos for room nights for the contestants, but those arrangements were never made public.
"We used Miss America as a great opportunity to bring media and customers into the city. Things like meals were done through local volunteers in Boardwalk Hall. Those kinds of things are now being done through the alliance," Vasser said.
When the competition moved to Las Vegas, things changed. According to The Press of Atlantic City archives, in the organization's first year in Las Vegas in 2006, it cost just $47,096 to put on the competition at Aladdin Resort and Casino.
At the same time, the organization was dealing with other changes. ABC had dropped the competition in 2004 amid declining ratings. After years on cable, the pageant returned to ABC in 2011, but the arrangement was much different. The organization used to reap millions in revenue from its deal with ABC, but under the latest arrangement, it's required to buy access for its slot and then sell ads to pay the cost.
Miss America Organization officials have declined to say how much is paid-for air time.
This time around, the organization's costs will not come from paying fees for Boardwalk Hall. Use of the venue is now provided at no cost by the CRDA. But production costs with the team from Malibu, Calif.-based Tall Pony Productions will total nearly $4.3 million this year. Staff costs alone total more than $883,000. Hosts, judges, performers and announcers run another $173,378.
Richard Perniciaro, director of Atlantic Cape Community College's Center for Regional and Business Research, said only time will tell whether the financial risks taken will pay off.
"I think if you look at the event itself, there's not enough there to justify the expense," Perniciaro said, speaking about the business the competition is expected to drive to the city. "That means they have to come to the conclusion that all of that publicity is worth the money. It's very difficult to value marketing publicity."
The CRDA, meanwhile, commissioned a study that estimated the competition and parade will bring a $32 million economic impact to the city.
Guaracino, meanwhile, said even aspects of the contract that appear to be perks may have promotional value. The alliance has agreed to provide a night on the town for all of the contestants at a location that has yet to be disclosed. While that will be a night of entertainment for the contestants, having the contestants out - and the associated media coverage - will be a plug for Atlantic City, he said.
"When we say a free night out on the town, that's a very specific, very strategic marketing night out," Guaracino said. "We're looking at what we can do that is legitimate entertainment and can also help market the city and the return of Miss America."
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