The Louisiana Office of Tourism will pay the Miss USA pageant only half of the $50,000 the office pledged when it was trying to lure the event back to Baton Rouge earlier this year.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne confirmed on Thursday that the Office of Tourism had dropped its Miss USA payment to $25,000.
Asked whether the Miss USA organizers approved of the reduction in funds, Dardenne said he spoke directly with Miss Universe President Paula Shugart.
“She said she had to run it up the flagpole, so I expect to hear back,” he said Thursday afternoon.
But he added that the amount is “not negotiable.”
“We believe this is the right thing to do and the fair thing to do,” Dardenne said. “But we wanted to avoid a negotiation. This is fairly straightforward and more than reasonable in terms of fulfilling our obligation.”
The Louisiana Seafood Board, which Dardenne oversees, will still pay its full $15,000 commitment.
“The pageant was a tremendous success with a significant number of visitors from throughout the nation spending 10 days exploring Baton Rouge and surrounding areas,” Dardenne said in a statement released earlier Thursday. “We are grateful to Reelz network for stepping in and providing a meaningful telecast that showcased our state. At the same time, we believe our payment must be reduced for it to be an appropriate expenditure for taxpayers.”
Jacques Berry, Dardenne’s spokesman, said his office used advertising and ratings data from the pageant to determine how much to pay.
Miss USA saw its viewership this year on the Reelz channel tumble to an all-time low of 925,000 viewers, according to Nielsen, a leading provider of information on what consumers watch on television. The TV audience represented an 83 percent drop over last year’s 5.6 million viewers, when the Baton Rouge-staged event aired on NBC.
It has yet to be determined whether Miss USA’s low viewership swayed others who committed money to the pageant to reduce their incentives.
Visit Baton Rouge has paid Miss USA $100,000 but still has not paid the last $75,000 of its contract, which was tied to the pageant airing on NBC. The money was due by July 1. That contract also included another $25,000 for discretionary spending related to the event. Visit Baton Rouge has not said how much of that was spent.
Visit Baton Rouge President and CEO Paul Arrigo said Thursday he is uncertain when the organization’s board will decide on whether to pay all or part of the remaining $75,000.
Mayor-President Kip Holden did not return requests on Thursday for comment. Holden has previously said the pageant was well worth the city-parish’s investment of $280,000, and he called Miss USA “one of the greatest nights in the history of this country.”
Miss USA representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
The pageant, held July 12 at the Baton Rouge River Center, was tainted in controversy before it aired. Miss Universe/Miss USA owner Donald Trump, a candidate for president, alienated pageant hosts, judges and performers with his statements that Mexico was sending criminals, rapists and drug dealers into the United States.
After replacing all of the pageant’s hosts, judges and performers, the competition to crown the next Miss USA went smoothly. During the pageant’s interview segment, Miss Oklahoma USA Olivia Jordan said America needed to address its deep racial divides. Jordan won the pageant.
When asked about Trump’s comments in a post-pageant press conference, Jordan said Trump does not represent the Miss USA organization as a whole.
“This organization certainly celebrates diversity, and I think that was very clear onstage tonight,” Jordan said, referencing the four Hispanic contestants who made it to the pageant’s top 15. “And I look forward to being a part of this brand and a part of working forward to spread a message of love, diversity and acceptance.”
Staff Writer Rebekah Allen contributed to this report.