Visit Baton Rouge decides not to pay Miss USA $75,000; joins state in cutting incentive payments to pageant organizers _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Contestants are introduced in the Miss USA Pageant Sunday night in the Baton Rouge River Center.

After losing its NBC billing and seeing its viewership plummet to an all-time low, the organization that puts on Miss USA lost $75,000 Thursday that Visit Baton Rouge initially had offered to lure the pageant back to the Capital City.

Miss USA now has lost about $100,000 in incentive payments between Visit Baton Rouge and the state’s Office of Tourism both cutting back their promised incentive payments to the pageant. Controversial comments from Miss USA/Miss Universe owner Donald Trump caused several celebrity hosts, judges, performers and sponsors to cut ties with the organization just days before the pageant was set to broadcast live in July from Baton Rouge.

Trump, a presidential candidate, caused an uproar with inflammatory comments accusing Mexican immigrants of bringing drugs, crime and rape into the United States. In addition to NBC, the Spanish-language network Univision announced it would not air the Miss USA pageant in the wake of Trump’s comments.

Visit Baton Rouge had a $200,000 contract with Miss USA, and already had paid $100,000 in cash and another $25,000 in transportation, meals and activities for the contestants.

The Visit Baton Rouge board voted unanimously Thursday not to hand over the additional $75,000 to the pageant’s organizers. Visit Baton Rouge President and CEO Paul Arrigo would not say what the deciding factor was in not paying the remainder of the contract

“We felt that our agreement with Miss USA was such that we fulfilled our portion of the agreement and we did what we were supposed to do morally, ethically and legally,” Arrigo said.

Pressed on the issue, Arrigo said, “There was no additional money that would need to be paid at this time.”

Though Arrigo would not say if NBC dropping the pageant was related to ending the payout, Visit Baton Rouge’s contract with Miss USA does mention NBC by name.

Independent network Reelz stepped in to air the pageant instead, but Miss USA still saw its viewership crash down by 83 percent from 2014.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said last month that the lack of viewership — which translated to less exposure than promised for the city and state — led to his office cutting incentive payments in half from $50,000 to $25,000.

The city-parish is now the only entity that has not announced plans to lower or drop payments to the pageant. The city-parish’s $280,000 contract did not stipulate that the pageant air on NBC.

Mayor-President Kip Holden has said the investment in Miss USA was worth it, calling the pageant “one of the greatest nights in the history of this country” before it aired.

Despite the conflicts that cast a shadow over the pageant in the days leading up to it, the competition itself was mostly free of controversy. A Miss USA spokeswoman did not return a request for comment about the money from Visit Baton Rouge not being paid out in full.

Arrigo would not say how the Miss USA organization reacted to the news.

There are still a few more ways Miss USA could scoop up money from the city-parish and the state. The organization applied for the state’s film tax credits program, which awarded it $1.25 million in tax credits after last year’s pageant.

The generous program reimburses movie and television producers for 30 percent of what they spend filming in Louisiana, and it does not require that a certain number of viewers watch the broadcast. The state’s film office does require a national or international multimarket distribution plan, which Miss USA had.