Miss America arrival

Gretchen Carlson speaks to the contestants and the crowd at Kennedy Plaza during the annual Miss America arrival celebration. Thursday, August 30

Last Sunday’s Miss America pageant was the first one under new, controversial leadership and the last one under the existing contract with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

Last week, a state audit of the agency found that due to a lack of documentation, proper planning and oversight, “the CRDA did not effectively manage these contracts nor have the ability to determine if the funds were spent in an efficient manner.”

In total, the CRDA has provided more than $19 million to the Miss America Organization in the last six years.

Before CRDA signs another high-priced contract with the organization, there are many questions to be answered, including: What’s in it for Atlantic City?

This year’s competition followed months of controversy after a 2017 scandal that exposed sexist and vulgar emails sent by former CEO Sam Haskell. Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson was selected board chairwoman and pledged to take the pageant in a new direction.

The Miss America Organization eliminated the swimsuit competition and brought in a new mission statement, but the changes were met with immediate backlash, calls for new leadership and accusations of bullying from Miss America 2018.

The upheaval and the publicity it generated didn’t help draw an audience, as the broadcast continued a trend of losing viewers. Sunday night’s broadcast on ABC reached 4.3 million viewers, a 19 percent drop in viewership from last year’s show, according to the Nielsen company.

The marketing exposure for Atlantic City has been something that has always been cited as part of what taxpayers receive in return for supporting the pageant

The 2016 contract included a provision to help promote Atlantic City through the company’s other productions. Dick Clark Productions was required to air a live performance in Atlantic City during its 2017, 2018 and 2019 New Year’s Eve telecasts.

But the 2017 performance never happened and in December, Dick Clark Productions severed ties with Miss America.

What about all the visitors and dollars the pageant attracts during the shoulder season? According to the performance audit, an economic impact study performed prior to the 2014 competition “estimated $60.4 million in economic benefits from the pageant to the Atlantic City area through a combination of local jobs created for the pageant, consumer spending, and state and local tax revenues. There was no estimate of the value of Atlantic City’s exposure on television. No follow-up study was performed to measure if expected benefits were achieved.”

A subsequent study after the 2017 competition, which was after the CRDA negotiated the second contract and significantly increased the payments to the organization, identified only $23.2 million in economic benefits to the area, including the value of Atlantic City’s exposure on television.

Before any other contracts are signed, the Miss American Organization must demonstrate that they have an achievable strategy for increasing viewers and visitors, and for funding a larger share of the cost of the pageant. And CRDA needs to develop and institute monitoring controls to hold the organization accountable. Otherwise, the taxpayers and Atlantic City will continue to be runners up.

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