The 2023 Sturgis Rally traffic count came in 8% below the previous five-year average. But the City of Sturgis is using new math to say they enjoyed the biggest Rally since 2015… although the numbers they give KELO-TV conflict with that claim:
During the 10-day rally, there were 617,000 visits, which is second only to the 75th Rally in 2015, Beka Zerbst, the president of the Sturgis City Council, said. The previous year saw 611,447 visits, 2021 had 700,295 visits and in 2020, only 549,747 arrived for the Sturgis Rally.
This year, the city used a new way of calculating Rally guests through people’s mobile devices. In previous years, Sturgis relied on Department of Transportation vehicle counters positioned on the interstate and highways for an attendance count.
“The numbers reflected one vehicle crossing the counter as traffic into Sturgis,” Zerbst said of the old tracking method. “One motorcycle could have two or more passengers or one car could have multiple passengers. Our new system collects data from an individual user’s cell phone” [Gracie Terrall, “2023 Sturgis Rally Summit Numbers Are In,” KELO-TV, updated 2023.10.25].
(Hey, Freedom-loving Rallygoers: did you give the Sturgis City Council permission to collect data from your phones to track your location?)
This year’s 617,000 visits are fewer than 2021’s 700,295, so did Zerbst mean to say this year’s visits were the third-best in the last eight years?
Second or third is still higher than what we get from looking at the Department of Transportation traffic counts, which showed fewer vehicle entrances into the Rally in 2023 than in each of the previous six years. The only way the city’s phone counts could square with the state’s vehicle counts is if Rallygoers carpooled/cyclepooled/camperpooled significantly more this year than in previous years and/or if they started carrying more phones. Dividing the city’s phone-based numbers with the state’s vehicle counts indicates that each vehicle entering the Rally in 2020 carried 1.19 phones, while each vehicle entering in 2023 carried 1.35 phones.
Whatever is happening in reality, industry analysts and entrepreneurs should read the Rally data carefully to make sure they don’t mix up the traffic and phone counts when they try to figure out just how many customers they may find in Sturgis during the busiest part of August.