SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) –The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has been changing and it’s on purpose, said city manager Daniel Ainslie.
“After the 2016 rally, the city began specifically targeting some younger individuals and a younger market as well as ensuring it was a broader market that we were appealing to,” Ainslie said.
The city didn’t turn its back on Harley riders or motorcycle riders but it also knew that it needed to turn a bit toward more than motorcycles.
“Of course the rally is always at its heart going to be about motorcycles and freedom, but with that being said we want to ensure that people know they are welcome to attend even if they don’t necessarily ride yet,” Ainslie said.
Yet, is key, because Ainslie said when many non-motorcycle attendees experience the rally including the motorcycles on display and the routes they can travel in the Black Hills, many want a motorcycle.
The data from the 2022 rally shows that city’s efforts may be working. There was an estimated 505,000 people who attended this year’s rally.
The average age of the 2022 Sturgis Rally attendee was 51 or 50.8 years old, according to a study conducted by a team from Texas A & M University.
The age has been slightly declining overall since 2015 when the average age 53.1 years old, according to city data. The Texas study said the average age in 2022 was the highest in five years. The 2019 age was 53 (52.8) and it was 47 in 2021. The age in 2017 was 46.5 and 49 in 2018.
The most recent data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) shows that the age of motorcycle ownership was aging. Ultimate Motorcycling cited a Motorcycle Industry Council survey from 2018 that said the median age of a motorcyclist was 50.
Multiple industry publications have published stories about attracting younger riders and females riders since 2016.
Rally data also shows there is an increasing number of rally attendees who do not own a motorcycle. Twelve percent of 2022 attendees did not own a bike, compared to 1% in 2015.
One demographic is related to the other, Ainslie said. Non-motorcycle owners tend to be younger than motorcycle owners.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were 8,575,569 registered motorcycles in the U.S. in 2021. That’s a slight decrease from the 8.6 million in 2020 but numbers from 2015 to 2019 dipped between 8.4 million and 8.3 million.
Eighty-seven percent of this year’s attendees said they came to look at bikes and ride through the Black Hills, the Texas A & M study said. Fifty-eight percent participated in the concerts.
Motorcycles are still king when it comes to the rally, but music is also a big attraction.
“So much of our marketing is focused on music,” Ainslie said. “This is one of the largest music festivals in the nation. We want to make sure people know there are hundreds of bands playing here each year.”
Many of the concerts are free, which also makes it appealing to attendees, he said.
Ainslie said concerts and other activities are helping to increase the length of time rally attendees stay in the Black Hills area.
The average stay has increased from 6.4 days to 7.8 days.
But there is a noted drop off in the final weekend of the 10-day rally.
Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 13 and 14 were the least attended days this year.
Sturgis is adding a motorcycle street race to the final Saturday of the rally on Aug. 12, 2023.
The plan is to close off two blocks of Main Street for an oval race track.
“We want to do something different and frankly, we want to appeal to a lot of individuals that are seeking a lot of thrills,” Ainslie said.
Street racing tends to be a thrilling event, he said. And those attracted to it tend to be in the youngest demographic.
“We believe we are going to attract a lot of new people who will be here for just one or two days and that’s great,” Ainslie said.
The younger demographic may not have as much money to spend or as much time to stay but the races are a way to expose them to the region, Ainslie said. Once here, they may decide to stay longer or return, he said.
Sponsors and vendors have responded positively to the city’s effort including the street races, he said.
Inflation had a role in this year’s rally. It helped to increase the dollars spent as prices may have risen on various items and services, Ainslie said. Inflation also influenced who attended the 2022 rally.
The average spending per person was $2,678 during their stay in 2021. At an average of seven days that is $382 per day per person, according to city data. That was an increase over several prior years.
In 2022, the average spent per day in and around Sturgis was $397 per day. The 2021 attendance was higher than the 2022 attendance. So, fewer attendees spent more.
“This was a very strong rally but it wasn’t quite as strong as last year’s,” Ainslie said.
Inflation somewhat artificially increased what was spent but there were fewer goods or items sold, he said.
Ainslie said inflation also kept some out-of-state and out-of-country potential attendees from coming. Rally attendance reflects fewer attendees from California, southern states and foreign countries.
Many of the attendees came from South Dakota and within 400 miles or so, he said.
Colorado, Minnesota, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Nebraska had the most non-South Dakota attendees this year. Thirteen percent of the attendees were from South Dakota.
“The number of international tourists was down this year,” Ainslie said. But it was higher than the last two years because international tourism was significantly down everywhere those two years.
The percentage of international attendees was 4%, according to the A & M study.
International attendees spend more money than domestic tourists, he said.
The attendees from the region or Midwest do not spend as much as coastal state attendees, Ainslie said.
The California and Texas attendees, for example, didn’t attend at prior year rates because of inflation and economic uncertainty, he said.