How New Jersey fumbled Atlantic City's shot at New Year's Rockin' Eve

ATLANTIC CITY - The Spinners, even with their snazzy matching champagne pink suits with subtle Chevron stitching and a gig at Resorts, were deemed not good enough.

Not everyone agreed. "I would have, because I like the Spinners," said Gary Hill, noted Atlantic City socialite and member of the board of the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), which on behalf of Atlantic City took on, then flubbed, a chance at the big time on New Year's Eve.

The big time! What else could that be but a "live remote performance occurring in Atlantic City" on Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve? ("Artist and song" subject to Dick Clark Productions approval.)

The CRDA paid $12 million to Dick Clark Productions and the Miss America Organization as a three-year subsidy to keep Miss America afloat, and in Atlantic City that was justified in large part by the publicity jolt the beleaguered city would receive from three straight years with Ryan Seacrest and the gang on New Year's Eve.

But when the 2017 lineup was revealed, it was New Orleans and its tourism officials who were boasting about the "celebratory glimpse of our incredible city" that tens of millions would now see as the ball dropped.

Gone was the Jersey scenario: the big act in a packed Boardwalk Hall, tickets to be sold through Live Nation, the remote and rockin' feed from Atlantic City carried on ABC to New Year's revelers across the land.

Don't hold your breath waiting to see Atlantic City's ball drop Saturday night. It won't happen. You'll sooner see the Revel ball roll off the still-shuttered casino hotel.

What happened? How did a New Jersey agency throw away broke, but ever hopeful, Atlantic City's shot at New Year's Rockin' Eve?

How did Live Nation, paid by the same CRDA an additional $9 million to put on beach and other concerts, two of which were canceled amid tropical storm hysteria, fail to come up with a major act in Boardwalk Hall for New Year's Eve that would have satisfied both Dick Clark Productions and the tastemakers at the CRDA?

Something that wouldn't embarrass the city even further?

"They couldn't provide talent that we thought was worthy to be here," said Robert Mulcahy, the former Rutgers University athletic director who is now chairman of the board of the CRDA, the state agency that until now has had a 1.25 percent tax on casino revenue to reinvest in development projects that are supposed to help Atlantic City.

"We wanted them to do it - not Dick Clark, the promoters we work with. It didn't have to be a concert. It had to be a show of some kind that would attract people. And Dick Clark had to be satisfied."

Don't ask Live Nation what happened. Despite having $650,000 left over from the canceled beach concerts and the lucrative ongoing contract, the Philadelphia-based mega promoter has been distancing itself from the New Year's Eve gig since at least October. It refused numerous attempts to get any comment or explanation for the Rockin' Eve miss.

Don't ask Dick Clark Productions. The company, which produces the Billboard Music Awards and the Miss America Pageant, which it has brought back to semi-health in recent years, also ignored repeated requests for comment on Atlantic City.

No help from the casinos

And don't turn to the casinos for help, the CRDA learned, because most of them no longer bother to book big concerts on New Year's, filling their hotel and ballrooms, nightclubs, and casino floors by staging elaborate parties for their regulars. They were not interested in footing any additional bills for Rockin' Eve, CRDA officials said.

"One of the things that happened was, none of the casinos was interested," Mulcahy said this month. "Because they can get a full house without any attraction."

The contract, signed in February 2016, clearly lays the responsibility and financial burden for coming up with a show that would meet Dick Clark standards on the CRDA or its "agents or contractors." But it also clearly lays out three straight years of "promotional accommodations" for the city, whose marketing dollars have mostly been rerouted to pay the city's more pressing bills, on both Rockin' Eve and the Billboard Music Awards, which did feature this year's Miss America, Savvy Shields, on the red carpet.

"Such approval shall not be unreasonably withheld," the contract states.

In late November, with merchants still speculating on what great act would fill Boardwalk Hall on New Year's Eve, the CRDA admitted it had failed to produce one, blaming "scheduling and other considerations." It said Dick Clark Productions had not violated the contract.

The finances were 'askew'

More recently, CRDA officials have said it came down to money. A major act for New Year's Eve, not to mention satellite trucks and other complications of a remote broadcast, would cost at least $1 million and require more advance planning.

"The numbers were really askew," said Gary Hill. "It would have been over $1 million. The casinos didn't want to host. What bothers me now is it's going to be in New Orleans, not Atlantic City."

The remote from New Orleans, which gives Rockin' Eve a new Central Time Zone countdown, will piggyback off the Allstate FanFest tied to the Sugar Bowl. The acts will be Jason Derulo and Panic! at the Disco.

In Atlantic City, besides the Spinners, at 10:30 p.m. in the Superstar Theater at Resorts, there will be casino parties in their ballrooms and nightclubs (Fedde LeGrand at Premier), lots of restaurant specials, and a New Year's party at the Pier at the Playground. The Chelsea hotel is closed for the winter season, but there will be plenty of merriment, even without Ryan Seacrest.

Tropicana will host a Grucci fireworks show and live broadcast of Times Square on the Boardwalk at 9 p.m.

From the start, the $12 million price to keep Miss America in Atlantic City seemed to some too steep. But the members of the CRDA, including Mayor Don Guardian, pointed to the opportunities the contract gave Atlantic City beyond the aging Miss America, which many in town believe is more trouble than she's worth at this point. In particular: the coveted live spot on the iconic Rockin' Eve.

CRDA officials say they will regroup and aim for 2018, not to mention 2019. The contract with Dick Clark and Miss America expires "upon completion of the New Year's Rockin Eve broadcast on Jan. 1, 2019."

"It's a shame," Guardian said in a radio interview shortly after the CRDA threw in the towel.

He said Miss America was never thought to be worth $12 million all by herself.

"Miss America by itself was not going to pass. Not for that kind of funding for three years," said Guardian. Rockin' Eve, he said, "is what sold everybody on it."

arosenberg@phillynews.com

609-823-0453

@amysrosenberg

www.philly.com/downashore