The Miss America Pageant is back home in Atlantic City, but may not be the Miss America Pageant of old . . could it be newer and better? In an exclusive interview with Atlantic City Weekly, the organization's CEO Art McMaster says a date for the pageant should be set within a week or so. Are there more changes in store for this year's pageant?
With the recent announcement last week that Miss America is returning to Atlantic City, it was time to find out what lies ahead for the “New” Miss America Pageant.
On Tuesday, February 19, 2013 the Miss America Organization opened it's doors to me so I could interview Art McMaster, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Miss America Organization. McMaster, who came to the Miss America Organization in 1999 as Controller was promoted to Vice President Of Finance in 2000. In 2002, McMaster was elevated to Miss America Organization (MAO) Vice President responsible for operational and business administration before assuming his present position on January 1, 2004.
The decision to have the pageant return to Atlantic City was not an easy choice and until the week before Christmas 2012, was not even a consideration. “I was at our company Christmas luncheon on Friday, Dec 21st when my cell phone went off and it was The Lt. Governor and Secretary of State of NJ Kim Guadagno, that is how this move started,” said McMaster. “The Lt. Governor said, Art I hope you don't mind but I tracked your number down and I understand your contract is up in Las Vegas and your getting ready to renew and we would like to compete for that, so before you sign we would like to make an offer if you are okay with that.”
McMaster, who was caught off guard replied, “If you look at the calendar, next week is Christmas week and the day after New Year's we all leave for the pageant, so this is awful fast. The Lt. Governor asked if we were in the office next week and I replied we are for three days. To which she commented, “I'll be there.”
According to McMaster, “It was on the 27th of December, that her car rolled up to the door. Sam Haskell (Chairman of the Board) flew in for the meeting and we sat around with her for an hour or two and talked about the pageant and bringing it back. At that point we laid it out as to what we thought it would take to bring the pageant back here. We told her, if they would like to submit a proposal we would be open to that. We were very honest with her and we told her and said we are happy in Las Vegas, they treat us very well, but at the same time this had been our home and if you would like to submit a proposal then we would consider coming home . . . and from that point, it just took off.”
When asked, How did the MAO board respond to the idea of returning to AC, McMaster replied, ”You know like any board, they knew we had an existing contract with Las Vegas who wanted to extend the contract but at the same time Atlantic City came in with a proposal and the board felt they had a fiduciary responsibility to consider all proposals.” In addition, McMaster said, “The one thing we and the board were not going to do is leverage one against the other. We were looking at both sites as stand alone proposals. The board really did look at those proposals independently.”
Any pageant the size and the scope of the Miss America Pageant needs the support of the city of Atlantic City and its leaders. When asked if the organization had made any contact with the city leaders McMaster said, “I called Mayor Langford before we made the announcement, but I was told that he was tied up all day in meetings and he would be unable to attend the announcement press conference. He called me a couple of days later and we had a very nice chat.” Did you and the Mayor discuss any of the logistics that will be needed to support the pageant? “In that regard, I told Mayor Langford that once we lock in the date in September with ABC or we get our preliminary and our parade dates locked in I would like to meet with you and your staff.” The Mayor replied, “That sounds great, let me know and we will set up a date or a luncheon or something and we will all get together.”
Now that the decision has been made to return, what does the organization see as the most important issues that it needs to resolve? “Well foremost is locking in the date and then we have to lock in the hotels. The pageant will draw thousands of people from all over the country as we now have fifty-three contestants. Those thousands of people will be coming to town looking for rooms,” said McMaster. Do you have a feel at this time as to when you will have some of the dates locked in? “I think we will have it if not this week next week the latest, we will have it locked in by the end of February 2013,” according to McMaster.
Much of the success of the Miss America Pageant had a lot to do with the large number of volunteers that participated as members of the Press Committee, Hostesses or Chaperons and many other positions. Do you anticipate reaching out to the volunteers and getting them involved once again? “The answer to that question about will we need volunteers again, absolutely, positively yes!” said McMaster. “However, will it be exactly as it was before, I don't think so. I think this will give us an opportunity as it did when we went to Las Vegas to examine and rethink how we did our operation. When we were here we had many groups who had been doing their thing for many years, when we got to Vegas we did not have those groups and we had to start from ground zero. We were in a new city, new venue and new volunteers, I think we learned a lot and I am sure we are going to apply what we learned there to how we operate in Atlantic City. Obviously we will have to adjust how we did business in Las Vegas here in Atlantic City as Atlantic City is so much bigger and yes we will need volunteers and we will find a middle of the road between Las Vegas and the way we used to do business in AC.”
How about casino support? Have you had any contact with any of the casinos to get a feel for where they stand? “I have not had any contact with any of the casinos. Remember, this just happened last week and honestly everything is down to Elizabeth Cartmell, President & CEO of the Atlantic City Alliance and John Palmieri, Director of CRDA said McMaster. Along the same lines, in past Atlantic City pageants contestants were housed throughout the city with five contestants at each casino. When the pageant moved to Vegas they were able to house all the contestants in one casino, one location. McMaster was quick to address that situation, “I don't think we will be able to house them all in one hotel. In talking with Elizabeth Cartmell, we are not going to go back to the old way which took many volunteers. We don't know what that ultimate number is, but fewer is better.”
McMaster was not telling all. When reminded that at the Press Conference it was announced that this years pageant would unveil some new changes to the pageant itself. Can you give some feel as to what those changes may be? McMaster smiled and said, “No we can't talk about any of those things until we get our date set.” The date is between you and ABC? “And the city of Atlantic City, it's a three way arrangement, we all have to agree on the date. We are looking toward the first half of September as the date for the pageant,” McMaster quickly added.
However, McMaster did apprise me of a very interesting fact. “I am not so sure the pageant will even be on Saturday night anymore. ABC has Saturday Night football so it may not even be on Saturday night.” Well, then will it be Sunday evening? “We do not know, we will see, maybe Friday night, maybe Sunday night in any event ABC promised us an answer by the end of February.”
It is obvious that much work must be accomplished in a relatively short time. Many dangling loose ends must be tied together to bring it all together. The positive side is that this is not the Miss America Organizations first pageant. Dating back to 1921, somehow the organization, no matter what form it was, has been very good at making the pageant succeed. Art McMaster, the Board Of Directors and all the people who provide support to the Miss America Organization are pulling out all the stops. Stay tuned, as there is much more to finalize and announce as the pageant comes back to life. . . and back home.