Last time the Miss America Organization left Atlantic City, where it began nearly a century ago, it stayed away for seven years before coming back. This time, according to city officials, it’s ready to return after just two years.
Council President George Tibbett said representatives from the organization have contacted the city about possibly returning for its 100th anniversary in 2021. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which subsidized Miss America’s second stay in the city until 2019, said it hasn’t gotten a formal request from the organization.
Miss America was receiving a subsidy of more than $3 million a year, as well as thousands of free or discounted accommodations, meals and transportation.
One reason it left was that the CRDA stopped bankrolling the organization, deciding that it wasn’t getting enough promotion of Atlantic City to justify the funding. And that was despite a 2017 study that identified $23 million in estimated economic benefits to the area from visitors and television exposure.
The audience has plunged the past two years for the reformed version of Miss America as a competition to help empower young women.
Its TV audience fell 19 percent its last year in Atlantic City and another 16 percent in December after its move to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.
The pageant’s long, slow decline in popularity was accelerated by dropping swimsuits and then evening gowns as part of the competition. In their place were added new criteria for contestants — an interview kept secret from the public, and a required “social impact pitch” showing how much the contestants think like the reformers.
Any Atlantic City or CRDA official considering the conditions needed for Miss America to return to the city for its centennial needn’t bother about how the reformers have misconceived the event and mismanaged the organization’s extraordinarily valuable state and local representatives. They need demand only one thing of Miss America Organization executives: What is their strategy for restoring the pageant’s viewership and visitors drawn to its national finale?
Miss America struggles because the current reformers and their incompetent predecessors have ignored obvious trends and opportunities in popular entertainment. As a result, America’s oldest and best established reality show has missed out entirely on the surging popularity of reality TV the past three decades.
If the competition is still with the Mohegans in December, it will give management a chance to show it is headed in the right direction. If so, officials in Atlantic City should look for TV ratings that stabilize, if not improve, as a precondition for return to the Jersey Shore next year.
Miss America fans should curb their hope.
The reformers might prefer killing the pageant to anything that would suggest they have erred. If that happens, we hope a Hollywood entrepreneur buys the brand on the cheap and delivers on its potential to provide a compelling experience to the whole country.
That would be worthy of a resort city that occasionally reinvents itself.