At the 2012 Sturgis Rally attendance was up 7% (official est. at 450K) and in all, the city of Sturgis spent approximately $960K to host the 6-day event which generated nearly $1.4M in revenue. Nearly $400K profit for the city which has more than double the net profit from the 2011 rally at $197K. There were 1,012 vendors registered vs. 976 in 2011 and gross sales by vendors were $13.1M compared to $12.6M in 2011.
And the man who made Sturgis? There are several who come to mind, but one near the top of the list would be Steven Piehl, the Harley executive who invented the Harley Owners Group (HOG). In 1983, Mr. Piehl worked under Harley’s General Sales Manager, Clyde Fessler, and was given 3 months to launch the program. They promoted the rally to hundreds of thousands of HOG members and is at least in part responsible for the transformation of Sturgis from a biker party into a profit center. Mr. Piehl was inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame last year and received the JC “Pappy” Hoel Outstanding Achievement Award for establishing HOG.
Motoring USA is the consultant group that essentially coordinates the Sturgis rally for the city as they help line-up sponsors (Harley-Davidson, Dodge, Jack Daniels, Geico etc.), vendors and publish the official rally magazine. For their 2012 services they were paid more than $308K ($163K commissions/fees and $145K to publish the official guide). Ironically, the city of Sturgis paid the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Inc., $26,944 in licensing fees to use the “Sturgis” name! Clearly corporate America has found the motorcyclist market and made the profit driven transformation.
Those are a few of the financial aspects of the motorcycle rally. Sadly, 9 people died at last year’s rally-related accidents and collisions. In 2011 there were 4 deaths. And you might have been one of the unlucky riders trapped on the freeway in 2010 after a semi-trailer caught fire (video HERE) and closed the interstate (see above photo)?
It’s also well known that at the Sturgis Rally large numbers of law enforcement descend on the area to make sure those 450,000+ bikers don’t get out of hand. On any typical week the city has 15 officers to keep the community of 6700 safe. During rally week it pays a hefty amount for law enforcement hiring people from nine different states. The city police budget in August is estimated to be in excess of $300K to cover salaries, equipment and other expenses for the event. Visiting officers are housed and receive two meals a day. In addition, there are also significant numbers of federal agents (FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshals Service, the National Guard, the Bureau of Land Management and even the National Forest Service) on hand.
However, budget cuts known as sequestration have stalled the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives attendance and for 2013 there will be fewer federal agents available to keep an eye on things for the first time in 10 years. The value of announcing this information to the public prior to the rally is interesting. Is it to alarm the public? Is it an open invitation for the motorcycle clubs to restart some of the “wild times” prevalent in years past? Historically, more than 20 ATF agents patrol Sturgis during the Rally. This year there will one agent in Rapid City who will be on call when the rally officially starts on August 5th.
Remember the 2006 rally shootout between the Outlaws and Hells Angels at Custer? How about back in 2008 when Sturgis ended with the first shooting in over 20-years where the Iron Pigs (off-duty Seattle LEO – Ronald Smith) had a confrontation with the Hell’s Angels (Joseph McGuire) at the Loud American Roadhouse? Anytime there is a large gathering of people, there is a potential for an incident, but I would anticipate if any intelligence or threat hits the radar we’ll see it rain law enforcement personnel sequestration or not.
It wasn’t too long ago, the rough, anti-materialistic, anti-authoritarian attitudes showed up on motorcycles en-masse at Sturgis. The motor company that helped put Sturgis on the map and was once so revered that men tattooed its name on their arms, is now more about demographics, international expansion in China and India and tapping female consumer spending. For example, Claudia Garber, Harley’s Director of Women’s Marketing Outreach, worked the 2012 rally to convince affluent, professional women that Harleys are really fun to ride.
Yes, the transformation of Sturgis from a quaint biker party into an enormous profit center is fully complete. Stay classy Sturgis!
Interstate photo courtesy of Renegade Wheels, other photos taken by author at 2012 Sturgis Rally. The 2012 Sturgis stats are HERE (.pdf).