Making the Rally Roar While Providing a Return to the Local Community: Trademark Protection and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

By Sneed, Jason M.; Sneed, Megan E. et al. | South Dakota Law Review, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

Making the Rally Roar While Providing a Return to the Local Community: Trademark Protection and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally


Sneed, Jason M., Sneed, Megan E., Bouwman, Isaac A., South Dakota Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

For entertainment events held in an arena, a stadium, or a concert hall, the formula for profitability can be straightforward. The event promoter seeks to generate more revenues from gate receipts, concessions, and merchandise sales than the costs associated with details such as rent and talent or food, beverages, and merchandise sold to attendees.

However, some events primarily occur in public spaces without the benefit of a gate at which admission may be charged. Often, the event promoter bears the brunt of costs associated with the event, including anything from security to traffic control, from sanitation to emergency management, from advertising and promotion to housing and feeding the employees and volunteers who staff the event. For these events, generating a profit can be challenging.

Motorcycle rallies present particular challenges for the towns and communities responsible for providing event infrastructure. Rally attendees are, by their nature, mobile, traveling miles within a day, and more likely to purchase a meal or buy a souvenir at least fifty miles from the event "headquarters" or where the attendees stay the night. Yet the event "headquarters" may be a particular city or town in which area entrepreneurs set up massive tents, temporarily lease storefronts for merchandise sales, or fill their restaurants and bars during the duration of the event. One local community discovered a partial solution to solving this challenge: trademark protection and licensing.

The biggest and best-known event in the world of motorcycle tourism is the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, (1) annually attracting over a half-million bikers and tourists to Sturgis, South Dakota, a town of just over 6,000 annual residents. (2) For decades, the Sturgis Area Chamber of Commerce bore the responsibility for promoting the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally event, providing consumers with information, and working with the City of Sturgis to manage event logistics. The event's popularity continually increased from its origination in 1938 as a series of motorcycle races through the 1980s and 1990s to an event drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists and biking enthusiasts to Western South Dakota each August. (3) As the event's popularity grew, the costs and time necessary to sustain this responsibility overwhelmed the Chamber. (4) Moreover, while the City recovered some of its costs from property rentals, vendor fees, and increased taxable sales, both the City and the Chamber struggled to recoup the costs incurred managing and promoting an event of this magnitude. (5)

Trademark protection and licensing can serve as a partial solution to generating revenue to fund an event, whether it is confined within an arena or spanning across miles of the Black Hills region. This article will outline an organizational blueprint for a community to capture revenues so as to sustain the management of a major tourism event. It will further evaluate the successes and the challenges the managing entity and municipality face to provide a return to the community, a community whose citizens each summer endure a week of loud entertainment, early mornings and late nights of engine roars, traffic congestion, and all the other challenges masses of tourists bring to a small community.

II. TOURISM AND THE STURGIS MOTORCYCLE RALLY EVENT

The travel industry is the seventh largest employer in the private sector. (6) In 2017, Americans spent $1 trillion in traveler spending, which generated $2.4 trillion in economic output and supported 15.6 million American jobs. (7) Every year, Americans travel for business and leisure, to attend meetings, conferences, concerts, sporting events, festivals, and -importantly among them- the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally event.

Each August, the Black Hills region of South Dakota roars as over half a million motorcycle enthusiasts ride, haul, and ship their bikes to the small town of Sturgis, South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally event. …

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