The new owner of the Miss Universe pageant is attempting to allay concerns over national licences following withdrawals by some countries.
National directors of Ghana and Belize have severed ties with the Miss Universe Organisation, while the national director for Seychelles and Mauritius said he was leaving his role after a new system was recently introduced.
Thai millionaire Anne Jakrajutatip, whose JKN Global Group acquired the 71-year-old beauty competition last year, said the "drama" was because "something got lost in translation and information".
Miss Universe is one of the longest-running and most-watched beauty competitions in the world; it is broadcast in 165 countries and seen by more than half a billion people annually.
Controversy began last week when Malz Promotions, which has been sending a representative from Ghana for the past five years, said it was withdrawing from the Miss Universe pageant.
"The new and sudden implementation of the Miss Universe business model under the JKN Global Group's leadership are not aligned with Malz Promotions' brand objective and would hence like to discontinue the relationship with Miss Universe," chief executive Menaye Donkor-Muntari said in a letter posted on Instagram.
Under the new system, organisations wishing to host national competitions to select Miss Universe representatives and their national directors must now submit a bid annually.
Many organisations have had long-standing relationships with the pageant, some spanning 30 years.
"In the application, you will be asked for your highest bid for the opportunity to hold the Miss Universe licence. Please be advised that proposed licence fees deemed not aligned with the market value in your region will be rejected," a memo shared online reads.
Pageant fans said the new rules would mean that organisations that have had a long relationship with the Miss Universe Organisation were no longer assured of the right to host the event. There were also concerns that the move would start a bidding war, with the rights to host the contest going to the deepest pockets, and not necessarily to entities who have the contestants' best interest.
One national director told The National that the licence to host a Miss Universe pageant can cost anywhere between $100,000 to $400,000 a year.
Miss Universe Ghana's withdrawal was followed immediately by a letter from Nevin Rupear, the national director for Miss Universe Mauritius and Miss Universe Seychelles, who said he was relinquishing his role.
In the letter addressed to Miss Universe and shared by pageant site Sash Factor, Rupear said "bidding is not for me".
"I am worth so much more than someone else bidding more to overtake all the hard work my team and I have put in since 2016. This cannot be quantified," he said.
That many organisations had already selected their representatives for Miss Universe 2023, scheduled to be held later in the year, only added to the uncertainty.
One day after day Donkor-Muntari's and Rupear's letters were posted, Yayasan Puteri Indonesia, the organisation that selects Indonesia's representative, shared a statement in which it said it was "shocked" to learn that another company had been granted the licence.
YPI has been collaborating with the Miss Universe Organisation for the past 30 years, it said, adding that it was "disappointed" by the lack of transparency in the bidding process for the rights to host the Miss Universe Indonesia pageant.
"We suspect that other factors were dominant in the transfer of the Miss Universe Indonesia licence," YPI said, without specifying, but suggested that the licence was already granted to the rival organisation even before YPI was asked to bid for a renewal.
Miss Universe has changed ownership a number of times since the first pageant was held in 1952. Former US president Donald Trump bought it in 1996 and sold it to global events and talent company IMG in 2015.
JKN Global Group bought the rights last year for a reported $20 million.
Chief executive Jakrajutatip, who earlier promised "to evolve the brand for the next generation," said in her an Instagram post that the request for bids "was meant to give voice and agency to the current directors. A way that they can speak truth to what they believe their business is worth."
"Since when [did] the Miss Universe Organisation say that the submission was all about the highest amount of money? It’s making no sense to me and it’s not my business integrity to do so," she said.
"I respect everyone who always supports Miss Universe and would love to urge everyone of you to listen before having the judgement. The organisation would love to give the transparency and would certainly be delighted to answer all of your questions."
On Thursday, Miss Universe Belize also said it was withdrawing from the competition, citing the bidding system as the reason.
"This does not align with the way I conduct business and believe it is not a sustainable way to keep a partnership long term with its directors. Because of this, I have decided to part ways with Miss Universe and give up the franchise," said Romeo Escober, the national director for Miss Universe Belize.