In second year back, Miss America promises even better showing

Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri , speaks during the announcement of the dates for this year's pageant events in Atlantic City. EDWARD LEA / Atlantic City Press
Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri , speaks during the announcement of the dates for this year's pageant events in Atlantic City. EDWARD LEA / Atlantic City Press
Posted: January 12, 2014

ATLANTIC CITY With more time to prepare this year, organizers of the Miss America Pageant say they hope to sell more tickets, generate even better television ratings, and garner more attention for the seaside resort than in last year's triumphant return.

The nationally televised Miss America 2015 competition, dubbed by pageant officials as "the world's most famous scholarship competition for young women," will air at 9 p.m. Sept. 14 on ABC.

The Miss America Organization's chairman and chief executive officer, Sam Haskell 3d; Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri; and the newly elected mayor of Atlantic City, Don Guardian, were among those at a news conference Friday at the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Hotel to announce details of this year's pageant.

The return of the pageant last year to Atlantic City after seven years in Las Vegas was announced in February 2013 by state officials. A date for the event was announced a month later, leaving organizers and city officials only six months to plan and execute the event.

"We have that much more time and ability to really put together strategies . . . to use the Miss America brand promotionally and to promote Atlantic City," said Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance. The nonprofit is charged with rebranding the resort as a year-round destination offering more than just casinos.

"This is not just a September thing for us," Cartmell said. "There is an opportunity to make this a 365-day partnership."

Last year's pageant show, Sept. 15, drew on average eight million viewers during its two hours, growing to 10 million in the final half-hour that included Davuluri's crowning. All the hype of Miss America's return to her birthplace also generated scores of articles and appearances by the contestants on Good Morning America, Today, and other TV shows.

As it did last year, the resort will benefit from all the pre-pageant activities leading up to the grand finale, said Cartmell. She said there would be citywide events after Labor Day weekend, which will include three nights of preliminary competitions from Sept. 9 to 11 at Boardwalk Hall. The "Show Us Your Shoes Parade" will be held on the Boardwalk on Sept. 13.

But for all it did to advertise the resort, last year's pageant did not fill Boardwalk Hall - about a third of tickets were unsold - and did little to boost gambling revenue.

"We can hope for bigger attendance at the venue by doing a better job of marketing the event, and I think we can improve the parade," said John Palmieri, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which provided subsidies for the pageant to return to Atlantic City.

Said Guardian, who was sworn in as mayor Jan. 1: "No question about it, our future is developing activities, events, and venues that you can't find in your hometown or city. . . . Gaming is great, but it's not our primary focus anymore."

Davuluri, a 24-year-old from New York state who is the first Miss America of Indian descent, said her life since winning the competition has changed dramatically. She's been living out of a suitcase with the constant travel as Miss America and promoter of Atlantic City.

"I'm usually not in one place for more than 48 hours," Davuluri said after Friday's news conference.

As far as selling Atlantic City, "it's a huge part of the job of Miss America," Davuluri said. "I was actually just in Vegas promoting Atlantic City there, and actually traveling with [the Atlantic City Alliance] Monday to Nashville to do the same."

She visited an Atlantic City high school on Friday to encourage students to follow their dreams though a solid education.

Following tradition, Davuluri's dress - a yellow crepe gown with a train designed by Gaspar Cruz - that she wore the night she was crowned Miss America was retired Friday and put on exhibit alongside previous pageant queens' dresses in the Sheraton Atlantic City Hotel lobby.

Haskell said he was pushing for even more glamour and fun for this year's pageant, as well as adding sponsors.

"I always want to do just a little bit better in every category," he said.

"We broke the top 10 [among prime-time shows] for that week last year," said Haskell. "We were No. 9. We want to do a little better and maybe be No. 8 this September."

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