Sturgis estimates Rally attendance at 490,000

Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie talks about how the city determines their attendance figures during the city’s annual Rally Summit Thursday. Pioneer photo by Deb Holland

STURGIS — The city of Sturgis hosted its third Sturgis Rally Summit Thursday. 

The purpose of the Rally Summit is to help people get the most reliable information available and to provide suggestions on how to best use the information when planning future marketing efforts for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, said Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie.

The summit is also the time that the city reveals its “official” Rally attendance figures for the year’s Rally. Ainslie said that through calculating a series of matrix, the city estimated that the 2019 event attendance was 490,000 with a total economic impact to the state of $720,599,113.

Additional topics of discussion Thursday included demographics of attendees, digital marketing efforts, statistics gathered from the official Sturgis Motorcycle Rally website and Facebook pages, identification of new visitor trends and expectations for the 80th anniversary in 2020.

Tammy Lowe of Rockford Fosgate, the official audio sponsor of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, attended the Sturgis Rally Summit Thursday and said that although the analytical information presented was good, she wanted to hear more about plans for the 80th anniversary event and beyond.

“For me, it’s all about the event and how do we drive the next evolution of people coming here,” she said. “The only way to get the new generation is to start to advertise to those people and bring them in.”

The ways to do that are through digital marketing and social media, she said.

The post-Rally summit grew out of an increase in inquiries from regional businesses as to how they could better market to Rally visitors who travel through the area on their way to and from Sturgis. 

“The economic impact of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has a far reach. When you can gather visitor information through social media interactions, surveys and sales tax numbers, you get a very clear picture of the wants and needs of the Rally visitor. From that point, you can be very specific and much more effective when advertising to those visitors,” he said.

Ainslie and Sturgis Rally & Events Director Jerry Cole announced that they are working with a company to develop an app that will track people as they head to the Rally from all corners of the country and the world.

The “Journey to Sturgis” app will allow rally-goers to use a GPS locator feature in the app to let people know where they are on their trip to Sturgis. 

An audience member Thursday said North Dakota State University already uses such an app to allow fans to check in as they follow the Bison teams around the country. It’s called the BisonTracker.

Those using the app can see little dots, which represent people, moving from one location to another leading up to and during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Each year the city of Sturgis surveys Rally-goers asking questions about when they plan their trip, when they arrived, how much money they spend and more. This year more than 4,800 people were surveyed.

The survey revealed that more than 30 percent of the rally-goers arrived before the first official weekend of the Rally. 

In addition to sharing lots of statistics revealing the demographics of rally-goers, Sturgis city officials talked about the charitable giving by those who attend the Rally.

Ainslie says the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally generates thousands of dollars to help local charities provide services to Black Hills communities year around. In 2019, Rally-goers donated $628,116. That total includes more than $132,000 from the Buffalo Chip, which annually hosts the Legends Ride, and nearly $50,000 to local churches who host Rally breakfasts.

“That is a tremendous amount of money that is going to our local charities. It makes a world of difference not only in Sturgis, but all of West River,” Ainslie said.

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