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Sturgis bike rally canceled again


Carl Smith



Organizers canceled this year's Sturgis South Motorcycle Rally after failed negotiations between event planners and city aldermen, rally board president Donny Hanson confirmed Thursday. 


Financial disagreements between aldermen and the Sturgis South Bike Rally Board led to the cancellation of each proposed event since 2011. 


Hanson said the event's future remains unclear following another failed attempt. 


"Does this effectively kill it? Who knows what it will do to the rally," he said. "I hear from people all over the country who've come to Sturgis say 'You canceled last year, and we're not coming back.' I've also heard some say they were disappointed, but would hold on to hope for next year. You don't know until you do it again."  


Last month, aldermen voted unanimously to hold a February work session charged with developing a financial contract proposal with the Sturgis South Bike Rally Board, but only Sturgis Mayor Walter Turner and aldermen James Eric Jackson and Mike Collins attended the Tuesday meeting. 


The workshop could have produced a rally proposal which then would have gone before city aldermen in March, but Turner said the meeting was eventually canceled due to the lack of city attendance. 


"We really wanted the rally and were in favor of it, but we didn't think it would be fair to work on a proposal without others there," Turner said about the workshop. 


The rally grew from a small charity event to a gathering which attracted an estimated 30,000 attendees in 2006, Hanson said. 


Expenses, like crowd sizes, grew. 


"Back in the early years of the rally, the rally board took all event income and paid all the bills. It finally got so big that the expenses got too high. That's when the board went to the city and asked for help," he said. "That got to the point when all of a sudden a contract between the board and city was needed 


"I think what happened is (aldermen) started looking at income and expenses and said they didn't see how they were going to make money," Hanson added. "That's when they started wanting more money from the rally board." 


Although attendance grew over the years, the rally's main income -- armband sales -- never matched estimated crowd sizes, Hanson said. Those who paid for the armbands were allowed in the city's park where bands performed.  


At the event's height in 2006, Hanson said approximately 5,600 armbands were sold. Four years later, that figure declined to approximately 2,500, he said. 


Since organizers cannot charge rally attendees for simply entering the town, Hanson said revenues quickly dropped. The rally board was unable to secure large financial sponsors, but it did reach deals for donated services. 


"It's gotten to the point where people forgot about being charitable. It got to be about how much money we can make," he said. "It was a good atmosphere. Everyone that came had fun, but people were coming down, having a good time and not footing the bill. 


"We started cutting expenses back because we were losing money. I don't know whether people got greedy because others saw it as a way to make money or what," Hanson added.


Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch



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