Virtually everyone agrees that the Miss America competition was a rousing success. Its return to Atlantic City generated much excitement, fueled by a very professional publicity blitz by both pageant officials and local agencies such as the Atlantic City Alliance, the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and city officials.
The city never looked better. The entire Tourism District, including the Boardwalk, is now extremely clean and litter-free due to the efforts of the CRDA's Special Improvement Division staff and the city Public Works Department. Atlantic City attractions were effectively highlighted on the television broadcast. The TV audience was large and grew in numbers during the telecast.
The new Miss America, Nina Davuluri, has continued the positive publicity by handling some silly criticisms with dignity, grace and intelligence. All in all, she and everyone else involved in the event deserve kudos for creating a positive image of Atlantic City and the competition.
The one major problem I see involves the grossly exaggerated estimate of 225,000 for the crowd at this year's Miss America parade. It is an unnecessary exaggeration that causes problems. It also distorts the historical record of an important Atlantic City event.
The parade takes place on an easily measured entity, the Boardwalk. Estimating crowd size is thus a straightforward process. The rows of spectator chairs started in front of Revel and continued down the boardwalk to Albany Avenue, making the viewing area about 2.3 miles in length.
The width of the Boardwalk is also known. It is 60 feet wide from Revel to approximately Bellevue Avenue, where it becomes 40 feet wide down to Albany Avenue. Space in the middle of the Boardwalk, varying from 20 to 30 feet, was set aside for the parade, leaving a much reduced area of approximately 50 percent for folding chairs, parked rolling chairs and standing room.
I won't bore you with calculations of how many chairs can fit in the space available. Let's just cite pageant CEO Sam Haskell, who said the pageant put 30,000 chairs out for sale at $20 each.
When the parade started, some seats were not sold, but they were later taken over by non-paying interlopers. So let's say by mid-parade nearly all 30,000 folding chairs and about 150 or so parked rolling chairs were occupied. Some folks brought their own chairs and squeezed into the limited space behind the paid seats.
To get to the 225,000 parade crowd estimate made by a city official, the ratio of standees to those in chairs would be nearly 7 to 1. Given the space factors cited above, a post-parade analysis of videos and photos all along the parade route will clearly demonstrate that the 225,000 number is an extreme embellishment.
I believe the parade crowd was actually between 60,000 to an absolute upper limit of 80,000. Those are huge numbers, equal to a Super Bowl crowd. There is no need to embellish them.
How did these exaggerated numbers evolve? What problems do they cause?
Starting in 2000, the media began citing unnamed and unchallenged sources who said that 200,000 folks were at the parade. That number apparently influenced the new Miss America Parade folks to set a $20 fee per seat, a price many locals thought excessive. In 2004, those seats, priced from $5 to $8, were sold through local charities, with all seats individually numbered.
Another negative from exaggerating crowd numbers is that some locals stayed home to watch the parade on television, fearing that the predicted massive crowds would result in traffic hassles and unruly behavior. That's a shame, because the pageant parade is a wonderful spectacle best viewed in person.
On parade night, local and state police were out in force, although the great job done watching out for terrorist activity should have been matched by the more mundane activity of keeping spectators from walking in front of the first row of seats, as was effectively done in past years.
But these problems can easily be corrected for next year's parade. What unfortunately will be harder to change is the public record that 225,000 people were on the Boardwalk this year.
Anthony Marino has taught demography courses at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. He is retired from the South Jersey Transportation Authority, where for 24 years he monitored visitor numbers and traffic patterns in Atlantic City.