STURGIS, S.D. (KELO) — Sturgis city officials are hearing the talk that the 2021 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendance could reach the record levels of the 75th Anniversary in 2015.
Christina Steele, the public information officer for the city of Sturgis and the rally, said officials have heard the rally numbers could reach the 2015 level of more than 700,000 attendees.
The city is busy just days before the Aug. 5 through Aug. 14 rally.
“We are already busy. We are getting vendors in; the town is packed right now,” Steele said on July 20. “It’s been a very busy summer.”
The rally finished 2020 with an attendance of about 462,182 during the coronavirus pandemic. The attendance figure is based on South Dakota Department of Transportation traffic counts at locations in and near Sturgis. Steele said the DOT traffic counts are good indicators of attendance.
The city also uses other sources including vendor licenses issued in Sturgis, measuring the tons of garbage during the rally and other sources to also help determine attendance, Steele said.
The 2020 traffic count attendance was 7.5% lower than the 2019 attendance of 499,654.
The S.D. DOT traffic figures show a record attendance of 747,032 in 2015.
Although the rally officially changed to 10 days instead of seven days in 2017, the S.D. DOT has been tracking attendance for 10 days since 2011. The 10 days used to include a day or two before or after the rally officially ended. Now, the 10-day number includes the official rally days.
S.D. DOT numbers show that the first Sunday of the 10-day rally is one of the peak attendance days. For example, in 2015, the count was 90,304 on the first Sunday. The second highest first Sunday count was 69,888 in 2014.
From 2011-2019, the average daily total for the first Sunday was 60,345. The Monday average for the nine years is 70,554. The highest daily total for any year from 2011 through 2020 was the Wednesday in 2015 with 96,409.
Even during a pandemic, the 2020 rally attendance was more than twice the estimated 2020 population of Sioux Falls at 195,850.
If the rally reaches an attendance of 750,000 that would equal 85% of the state’s 2019 estimated population of 884,659.
Attendance each year since 2010 has been about half of the state’s 2019 estimated population.
The annual rally attendance is more than 60 times the size of Sturgis’s 2019 estimated population 6,922. The city has 5.7 square miles.
Motorcycles line the streets and blocks of Sturgis during the rally but the U.S. Census Bureau says that Sturgis has motorcycles even when the rally isn’t happening. According to the Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey, 4.1% of Sturgis residents 16 and older said they commute to work by motorcycle, taxi or other means.
A 2018 market study by the South Dakota Department of Tourism shows that rally attendees come from all 50 states.
The origins of the most rally attendees have some similarities to the origins of general tourism visitors to the state.
Many visitors to South Dakota come from Minnesota. Twelve percent of those who come from states outside of South Dakota come from Minnesota, according to the 2019 rally report. Visitors from Colorado, Nebraska and California follow in that order.
A report from the South Dakota Tourism department shows Minnesota as one of the top states for arrivals to the rally and it’s followed by North Dakota and Colorado. So, some rally attendees may not be traveling directly from their state of origin to South Dakota.
Outside of South Dakota, most tourists to the state are from Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming and Iowa, according to the South Dakota Tourism.
In 2018, about 35% of rally attendees reported they stayed in the Sturgis area six days or longer. That was an increase from 2017 and 2018. Most attendees stayed four days or longer from 2017 to 2019.
That’s big contrast to the majority of visitors (52%) to South Dakota who made a day trip with no overnight stay to South Dakota from 2016 to 2018, according to South Dakota Tourism. Leisure travelers who stayed did so for an average 2.13 days from 2012 to 2014. The average length dipped below two days from 2014 until reaching 2.03 from 2016 to 2018.