Fitting that a Miss America Pageant that isn’t what it used to be now isn’t where it used to be. Now it’s ardently not a pageant at all, but a competition “advancing the message of female empowerment.” And a week before Christmas it will be held at a Connecticut tribal casino, the Mohegan Sun.
New Jersey finally decided that it wasn’t getting a sufficient promotional return on its Miss America Organization subsidy of more than $3 million a year — plus free rooms, meals and transportation. MAO spent several months seeking a new host, then a third party got it together with Mohegan Sun. The casino recently said some details of the arrangement remain to be hammered out.
Miss America already is something of a success for the casino and Connecticut. Ray Pineault, Mohegan Sun president and CEO, said it will deliver exposure like the annual Barrett-Jackson collector-car auction — the current holder of attendance records at the 10,000 seat Mohegan Sun Arena.
Connecticut can’t lose whatever Miss America brings. It isn’t giving the organization any money either, and annual spending by tourists in the state is just $11 million. In New Jersey with its many attractions, visitors spent $111 million last year.
This isn’t the first time Miss America has ventured into the wilderness from its historic Atlantic City home, but it may be the last.
After the September 2004 broadcast of the pageant drew a then-record-low audience of 9.8 million, ABC dropped it. The organization moved to Las Vegas and in January 2006 the pageant was carried on Country Music Television — where viewership plunged to 3 million, still a record for the cable channel. Two years later it moved to the TLC channel and then in 2011 ABC resumed broadcasting.
When the pageant’s contract with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority was due to expire, New Jersey officials convinced it to return home to the Boardwalk in Atlantic City for the September 2013 pageant.
That’s where the Miss America Pageant began in 1921. Highly unlikely that it will be back for its 100th anniversary in just a couple of years.
Production costs at the tribal casino should be much lower than they were at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall. They’d better be, since last year’s audience on ABC for the Miss America 2.0 Competition without swimsuits or evening gowns plunged 19% from the 5.4 million the year before and fell 36% among lucrative 18- to 49-year-old viewers.
The first requirement for another Miss America return to Atlantic City would be for the pageant to once again embody all that’s wholesomely impressive, charming and beautiful about single young women in the United States. But competition organizers seem like they never knew or have forgotten that Americans used to feel that this is their Miss and made it the most watched TV program of the year.
Miss America looks unlikely to find her way home, to her former greatness or the place she grew up.