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Miss America shops competition to other cities after Atlantic City ends funding

After Atlantic City ended its funding, the Miss America Organization is looking elsewhere for a home.

Nia Imani Franklin, Miss America 2019, after she was crowned in Atlantic City, September 9, 2018.
Nia Imani Franklin, Miss America 2019, after she was crowned in Atlantic City, September 9, 2018.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

ATLANTIC CITY — The Miss America Organization is shopping itself around to cities after its ancestral home said it would no longer subsidize the iconic but troubled competition to keep it in Atlantic City.

“The Miss America Organization is interviewing cities to partner with Miss America 2.0 as it prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary,” reads the 14-page Request for Proposal (RFP) for the 2020 and 2021 Miss America competitions, which goes on to detail ways “this event can bring exposure and economic activity to your city!”

The RFP was obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News through an Open Public Records Request to the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which bankrolled the pageant for the last three years at a cost of $12 million, but has essentially cut its ties.

“We have not responded to that,” said Matt Doherty, CRDA executive director. "They’re shopping around for the best opportunities for Miss America. Like the Super Bowl.”

Miss America is not a cheap date. The organization is asking the host city to cover production costs for the competition that it estimates as running between $2.5 and $4.9 million, plus a flat fee of $325,000 for other expenses. And Gretchen Carlson, chair of the board, wants a presidential suite.

The RFP says a final decision would be made in December, but the Miss America Organization did not respond to a message seeking further information about whether it had received any responses and which cities were in contention.

Miss America also wants its “Show Us Your Shoes” parade, a tradition on the Boardwalk, re-created in its new city.

The RFP outlines blocks of rooms needed for contestants, judges, and others, including Carlson, the former Fox News host who took over the pageant after an email scandal in which former Miss Americas were denigrated. The RFP seeks a venue of at least 3,000 seats.

Boardwalk Hall seated about 12,000, with liberal use of seat fillers recruited off the Boardwalk.

New Jersey won’t be offering the same support this year, Doherty said. Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver has already directed that the CRDA focus on Atlantic City community issues, such as bringing a supermarket to town.

“What’s the return?” Doherty asked. “Therein lies the challenge.”

The previous contract with Miss America and Dick Clark Productions had Atlantic City receiving benefits that were never fulfilled, including a promised live remote appearance from Atlantic City on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin' Eve.

Dick Clark Productions withdrew from the contract after emails surfaced from the previous executive team of Miss America that were sexist and insulting to former Miss Americas, setting off a tumultuous year for the organization that culminated with then-Miss America Cara Mund releasing a scathing letter about being bullied and silenced during her reign.

The CRDA maintained its support of the 2019 pageant, which took place last September, after the organization was taken over by Carlson, herself a former Miss America, and Regina Hopper, a former Miss Arkansas. But Carlson and Hopper have sewn new controversy, cutting ties with longtime state pageants including New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Carlson also eliminated the swimsuit portion of the competition.

Miss America left Atlantic City once before, in 2006, when it began a seven-year residency in Las Vegas. Its return to the Boardwalk was heralded, but promoters of Atlantic City’s redevelopment had largely moved on to such projects as the Atlantic City campus of Stockton University.

In the RFP, Miss America says it has not yet secured a contract for the television rights to the 2020 competition, but is in “renewal negotiations" with ABC. It says any contract with a city would be renegotiated if the organization fails to secure a contract with a major television network or streaming service, including Hulu, Netflix, and HBO.

The RFP includes preferred dates for the pageant and says “final dates must be approved by the broadcasting network which has been typically ABC." It notes that the competition had 4.3 million television viewers despite being opposite Sunday Night Football, and scored in the “top ten Nielsen Social Content Ratings” for the week.

The RFP says its mission is to “prepare great women for the world,” and “prepare the world for great women.”

In return for the financial subsidy and marketing support, Miss America offers to promote the host city in national news conferences, in-show promotions and mentions, and a spot on its website, and providing Miss America as a spokesperson for the city and a full page ad in the Miss America Competition magazine.

Suzette Charles, a former Miss America and Miss New Jersey who has been critical of the current leadership, said it would be a shame if Miss America left town again.

“I just think it’s an Atlantic City tradition,” Charles said. “Unfortunately, the way it’s been run hasn’t been terrific in the last 97-plus years, some years better than others.”

City Council President Marty Small Sr. said that Miss America is “a part of our fabric,” but that the cost had become too high.

“We appreciate having the pageant in the city of Atlantic City and all the exposure Miss America has brought to the city of Atlantic City; however, times have changed as far as funding,” he said. “Though we would love Miss America to be in the city of Atlantic City, I think especially in light of the last contract, dollars could be better spent.”

Some in Atlantic City said they are not ready to say another goodbye.

“People who grew up in the resort care,” said Robert “Sandy Beach” Hitchens, an Atlantic City native who for many years wrote and hosted the Miss’d America pageant that lovingly spoofed the real thing. He suggested a smaller casino venue as a way to cut costs. “It is part of our heritage. Some of the changes make us scratch our heads, but we still love the tradition.”