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Miss USA Pageant ...Branson businesses hope to reap rewards of telecast

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by Carol Harris

SBJ Contributing Writer

For a handful of Branson businesses, the 18 days of events surrounding the 1999 Miss USA Pageant meant a welcome increase in business activity during an otherwise slow January and February. But most businesses interviewed said they saw the pageant as an investment, hoping media exposure from the pageant's two-hour live CBS telecast from The Grand Palace Feb. 5 would bring a new set of tourists to Branson this year.

Tony Watson, general manager of The Pasta Grill in Branson, donated a catered lunch and sponsored the dinner for the pageant's karaoke night Jan. 25. "We have an ongoing relationship with The Grand Palace, and we wanted to help. We think the pageant will be great for Branson and we wanted to be a part" of it, he said. Since the karaoke event, Watson said he has seen repeat business from the Miss USA delegation, and he projected the weekend of the Feb. 5 telecast would be a busy one.

Jill Heppner and partner Ami Bremer, owners of Premiere Dance Academy in Hollister, donated 30 to 40 hours apiece planning and directing the opening ceremony for the 1999 Miss USA Pageant Jan. 22.

"We made a lot of good contacts for business," Heppner said. "We've been asked to perform at different venues like Mutton Hollow and Branson Fest '99." One of the dance studio's competition clogging teams was also invited to dance at the pageant's western night Jan. 28.

Branson's Party Magic owners Paul and Paula Moriuchi provided an estimated 1,000 helium balloons and party decorations for four of the pageant's pre-show events, and supplies for three of the four events were donated. For their donation, the Moriuchis received tickets to attend some of the pre-show events, a plus for their two teenage daughters.

Paul Moriuchi said participating in the pageant was "overall worth the while, just to support the community." He said, "I think it's going to help the area. More people around the whole world will notice who we are."

The Remington Theatre and the IMAX Entertainment Complex were among several theaters participating in pageant pre-show events. The Remington sponsored a morning worship service Jan. 24 and entertained the delegation with its Branson City All-Star Revue Jan. 30, while IMAX provided the location and lunch for the delegation's Miss Clairol Personal Style Fashion Show Jan. 26.

Production crews were on-site at both locations for taping, leaving the theaters with the hope of television exposure during the live telecast of the pageant.

In fact, it's exposure from the pageant telecast that many in Branson tourism covet most, hoping to gain the same kind of positive attention they did when the television program "60 Minutes" aired a Branson story in 1991.

"We had to bid against other cities to get Branson on the air for nine minutes," said Beverly Hood, director of Syncor Special Events Management, a subsidiary of Syncor Entertainment Inc., owner of The Grand Palace. Hood was referring to the nine minutes of pageant telecast time dedicated to showcasing Branson as a tourist destination. Hood said she thought the publicity coming from the 1999 Miss USA Pageant would be even greater than that of "60 Minutes."

"We not only have the commitment for this year, but also for next year," she said. The pageant "put Shreveport on the map." Shreveport, La., was host to the Miss USA Pageant for the last two years and, in 1999, will host Miss Teen USA for a second consecutive year.

Hood said that part of the requirement for Branson to act as host city to the 1999 Miss USA Pageant was to provide free lodging, food and transportation for the 51 delegates and the pageant staff. It's been Hood's job to solicit the sponsors and volunteer teams. "We couldn't have done it without them," she said.

According to Hood, the six largest cosponsors The Grand Palace, Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, city of Branson, Springfield-Branson Regional Airport, Silver Dollar City Inc., and Radisson Hotel Branson contributed close to $1 million in cash and in-kind services.

Not included in that figure are the gifts, decorations, food, transportation, entertainment and other items, plus volunteer hours, donated by hundreds of area businesses and individuals during the delegates' stay in Branson.

Hood said Syncor will recoup some of its revenue through the various event ticket sales, while the Miss Universe Organization, owner of the Miss USA Pageant, will receive revenue from the official pageant program and merchandise sales, and from national television advertising.

Radisson Hotel Branson was the largest local sponsor for The Miss USA Pageant, providing rooms for the 51 state delegates and the staff and production crews of the pageant. The Radisson's general manager, Tammy Johnson, said housing these guests amounted to 2,000 room-nights, costing about $250,000 in rate revenue.

However, Johnson said, the hotel will recoup about half of its cost through a subsidy by its corporate headquarters. "Radisson Hotels Worldwide has committed financially to support the pageant," she said.

"You also end up capturing other business," Johnson said, referring to such incidental revenue as meals, beverages and phone calls racked up by the delegation. Johnson, who was expecting full occupancy for Feb. 5, said that compared to the same time last year, the hotel's occupancy rate had almost doubled.

Johnson said the Radisson committed to sponsoring the Miss USA Pageant "just for the exposure from CBS during the live telecast. Whatever is good for Branson is good for the hotel."

"CBS and the Miss Universe Organization have been tremendous in fulfilling their obligation. They have gone above and beyond to showcase Branson," she said.

Jerry Adams, communications director for the city of Branson, said the city sponsored the pageant for reasons similar to those of the Radisson.

"We committed to the pageant because of the publicity and exposure that international television can give to Branson. The pageant is coming at a time when many families are planning their vacations for the summer," he said.

Adams, noting that the Miss USA Pageant live telecast fell on the first Friday of the network television ratings sweeps period, said, "You can't buy that kind of advertising." He also compared Branson's investment to that of Super Bowl advertisers, who were paying up to $1.6 million for 30 seconds of air time only a week earlier.

Silver Dollar City's director of sales and marketing, Linda Antus, said her organization's tie-in with the Miss USA Pageant was a good fit. The pageant is "continuing to change to be more family-oriented," said Antus, who also worked for Madison Square Garden when it owned the Miss Universe Organization.

According to Antus, the typical viewers of the Miss USA Pageant, middle-aged females and baby-boomer mothers, are a new prime market for Silver Dollar City properties.

"This is certainly a new opportunity to reach new audiences and large numbers of people," she said.

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