With NBC deciding to drop the broadcast of the Miss USA pageant, it looks like Baton Rouge won’t receive the national exposure it was promised when the event agreed to film in the capital city for the second year in a row. But the competition could still come at a cost to taxpayers.
Following on the heels of Spanish language network Univision, NBCUniversal on Monday cut ties with Miss Universe owner Donald Trump because of comments he made about Mexican immigrants during his June 16 presidential announcement speech. In those remarks, Trump singled out Mexican immigrants as undesirable.
When city and state officials offered Miss USA a package of $545,000 to shoot the 2015 pageant — a two-week event that is scheduled to kick off this week — in Baton Rouge, they did so under the expectation that the program would highlight the city’s culture, parks, restaurants and other offerings.
Miss USA also applied for the state’s generous tax credits program, as the organization walked away with $1.25 million in film tax credits from the 2014 pageant, based on an audit that says it spent $4.2 million on the 2014 pageant in the state.
“We’ll get publicity that will be seen all over the world,” East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden said at the time.
Now, it is unclear if the Miss USA pageant will air on any networks or if Baton Rouge will be spotlighted as the host city as the contestants start their activities here on Wednesday.
Miss USA released a statement late on Monday night confirming that the pageant will still happen on July 12 in Baton Rouge.
“We are disheartened by recent events, but the show will go on,” the statement reads.
The statement goes on to say that Miss Universe embraces diversity and that this year’s Miss USA contestants include six Latinas, four of whom have Mexican ancestry.
“While world politics and other influences will undoubtedly play a role, the pageant will always seek to transcend controversy,” the statement says. “It is unfortunate that recent events beyond our control have only served to negatively impact the women who participate in the pageant, our state directors, our sponsors and our fans.”
It is still possible that the pageant could receive money from film tax credits. The state tax credit program reimburses movie and TV producers for 30 percent of what they spend filming in Louisiana in the form of tax credits.
The state law only requires that companies applying for tax credits have a national or international multi-market distribution plan, which could range from a television broadcast to an online stream to a DVD-only release.
“Technically, there has to be a distribution plan, and it doesn’t have to reach a certain size audience,” said Chris Stelly, director of the state’s film office.
Stelly said Miss USA provided a distribution plan when it applied for the tax credits, and he said it had not notified his office of an updated plan by late Monday afternoon.
If Miss USA changes its distribution plan, Stelly said he will re-evaluate its submission for tax credits.
As of now, Stelly said Miss USA has not received any tax credits for the 2015 pageant. Tax credits are not given until a production finishes shooting and an audit takes place.
Miss USA has been lauded as an economic win for the capital region, with visitors filling hotel rooms and restaurants. The pageant heavily featured Baton Rouge last year, which city-parish leaders said provided a value of millions of dollars in advertising.
The production company for Miss USA was offered a $545,000 package to bring Miss USA back to Baton Rouge in 2015; it received an incentive package of $365,000 the first time Miss USA came to Baton Rouge in 2014.
The largest portion of this year’s package is $230,000 in local funding that the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council approved. Of that money, $186,900 is meant for security and electricity costs in putting on the pageant. Holden also authorized an additional $50,000 in local funds from his discretionary economic development account.
Holden’s executive assistant Susan Boudreaux said on behalf of the mayor on Monday afternoon that “there will be no comment from our office until we hear whether this matter can be resolved.”
In addition to the mayor’s funds, Visit Baton Rouge separately put up $200,000 for the Miss USA pageant. Visit Baton Rouge President and CEO Paul Arrigo did not return calls on Monday.
The other two sources of income for the Miss USA incentive package are from the state Office of Tourism, which committed $50,000, and the Louisiana Seafood Board, which committed $15,000.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who oversees the Office of Tourism, said in a statement Monday afternoon that he has not taken any action yet but emphasized that the tourism office has not handed over any money.
“We are evaluating the situation as it unfolds,” he said in the statement. “We haven’t encumbered any money yet, and I will consult with the Miss Universe organization to determine to what extent we are involved moving forward. I hope to resolve this in a way that best showcases the unique cultural experiences available in Baton Rouge and Louisiana, while still spotlighting the contestants and all they’ve achieved to reach this level.”
The Louisiana Seafood Board did not return a phone call on Monday.
Miss USA’s supporters have fallen like dominoes since Univision announced last week that it would no longer air the pageant. Colombian singer J Balvin also announced then that he was pulling out of his scheduled performance.
Jonathan Scott, an HGTV star who was supposed to judge the pageant, announced on Instagram on Monday that he was stepping down as a judge “as I cannot support the views of the powers that be.” Former Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera, who represented Puerto Rico in the competition, also announced last week that she would no longer judge the competition.
During his presidential announcement speech, Trump made pointed remarks about Mexican immigrants. “They’re sending people that have a lot of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us,” he said. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Later, Trump said he was only criticizing U.S. policies concerning Mexico, not its people. He said Univision is in default of a five-year contract.
On Monday, both NBC and Chi Hair Care, which is owned by Farouk Systems Inc., announced their withdrawals of pageant support. Miss USA was part of a joint venture between Trump and NBC.
“At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values,” the network said in a statement.
As of Monday evening, the Miss USA website still had the NBC logo on it and still listed Chi Hair Care as a sponsor.
“Our company is multicultural with people of Latin American descent making up a large percentage of our employees and loyal customers,” Farouk Systems CEO Basim Shami said in a statement. “As a company proudly founded on the concept of coming to the USA in pursuit of the American dream, Mr. Trump’s comments do not and will never reflect our company’s philosophy or practices.”
After the NBC announcement, Trump fired back through his Instagram account. He threatened to sue the network and called NBC weak and politically correct. He stood by his comments on illegal immigration.
“If NBC is so weak and so foolish to not understand the serious illegal immigration problem in the United States, coupled with the horrendous and unfair trade deals we are making with Mexico, then their contract violating closure of Miss Universe/Miss USA will be determined in court,” he wrote.
Late Monday, Mexican media giant Televisa said it will no longer air the Miss Universe pageant and won’t do business with Trump on any other communication project.
Televisa, one of the largest TV groups in the hemisphere, said in a statement that Trump’s “disrespectful” remarks offended the entire Mexican population. The company said it “strongly rejects all forms of discrimination, racism and xenophobia.”
A representative for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Miss USA contestants have a jam-packed schedule planned over the next two weeks until the pageant on Sunday, July 12. They will be all around Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas starting in the middle of this week, and their activities range from spending time at parish parks to eating at some of Baton Rouge’s most celebrated restaurants, from City Pork to Ruffino’s.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.