Sioux Falls: Bringing the Athletes (and Spectators)
30 Jan, 2017By: Michael Popke
Major Facilities, Midwestern Charm Make ‘Little Big City’ a Huge Draw
If you bring a soccer, basketball, softball or volleyball tournament to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, your event won’t just be something to fill a venue.
“When it comes to hosting sports events here, we get fans in the seats,” says Krista Orsack, director of marketing for the Sioux Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have proven, time and again, that people will come to the events we host. Our local media outlets take pride in providing in-depth coverage of sports events because they have a stake in what we’re doing with sports tourism and improving the economy.”
Bordering Iowa and Minnesota, Sioux Falls is considered the “heart of America” by the 173,000 people who live there, and South Dakota’s largest city is within a day’s drive of most major Midwestern cities.
Not only is Sioux Falls an emerging youth sports destination, but the establishment of the Sioux Falls Sports Authority in 2006 has been a boon to the city. In fact, the organization is a big reason the city is in the midst of hosting eight NCAA Division II national championships between 2015 and 2018.
The 3,200-seat Sanford Pentagon — the five-sided cornerstone of the Sanford Sports Complex — is home to six of those events: the 2015, 2016 and 2018 women’s basketball national championships, the 2016 women’s volleyball national championships, as well as the 2017 and 2018 men’s basketball national championships.
The other two Division II events include the 2016 wrestling national championships at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center and the 2018 outdoor track and field national championships at the University of Sioux Falls Lillibridge Track & Field Complex.
On top of all that, the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, a 12,000-seat arena that opened in 2014, hosted a 2016 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament regional, welcoming such high-profile teams as Syracuse, Ohio State, Tennessee and South Carolina.
“A lot of players and their fans didn’t know there was anything in South Dakota, let alone a $117 million sports venue,” Orsack laughs, adding that she hopes the recent championships will eventually lead to hosting regional rounds of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament and more. “Welcome to the little big city we like to call Sioux Falls.”
Back to the Beginning
How did Sioux Falls become the center of the college sports universe on select dates of the year?
Orsack credits the bold decision of officials from the Summit League, headquartered in Elmhurst, Illinois, to bring the conference’s women’s basketball championship to Sioux Falls in 2009. Coincidentally, that year’s title game matched up South Dakota and South Dakota State, and it drew almost 8,700 fans.
“That was a game-changer,” she says. “A big-time event took a chance on a small city, and we delivered.”
The Summit League men’s and women’s basketball tournaments now are held annually at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center; the 2017 dates are March 4 to 7.
Even before the Summit League’s arrival, Sioux Falls was a solid college sports town — and one of the primary reasons locals love attending events. Two Division I Summit League universities (South Dakota and South Dakota State) each are located 45 minutes from Sioux Falls in different directions, and the city also is home to a pair of competitive Division II schools (Augustana University and the University of Sioux Falls).
Many alumni of all four universities live and work in Sioux Falls, and pride and rivalries run deep, Orsack says.
In addition to hosting high-profile NCAA events, the Sanford Pentagon is home to the Sanford POWER Basketball Academy and Sanford POWER Volleyball Academy, the NBA D-League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, and the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame. The 160,000-square-foot facility boasts nine basketball courts and offers period-specific touches that are a nod to the nostalgic days of basketball.
The Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, meanwhile, is part of an entertainment complex that features an 8,000-seat arena and convention center attached to a 243-room hotel, 10,000-seat track and field and football stadium and a 4,000-seat baseball stadium.
On January 9 and 10, the Sioux Fall Stampede, the city’s United States Hockey League team, will host the 2017 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center. The Stampede has set attendance records for the premier junior hockey league since moving into the facility three seasons ago, drawing 200,000 fans in 30 games (or almost 6,700 per game). That ranks among the best not only at the USHL level but also among some college and pro teams.
Partnerships between private corporations and the city of Sioux Falls have made many of the city’s major sports facilities possible.
Youth sports opportunities abound in Sioux Falls, too. Last year, the city hosted the American Softball Association/USA Softball Girls’ 14-Under Class A Fast Pitch National Championship at Sherman Park (nine fields) and Harmodon Park (eight fields). A total of 86 teams competed from July 30 to August 7, and the event generated front-page news coverage, too.
This summer, from June 23 to 28, Sioux Falls will host the 2017 US Youth Soccer Region II Championships at Yankton Trail Park, a 21-field complex that allows all games to be played at one site. It will take up nearly every one of Sioux Falls’ 5,000 available hotel rooms.
“That’s how we win bids,” Orsack says, referring to the all-in-one facility. “Having the event at one complex allows for a great festival-like atmosphere.”
The city also is gearing up for other major events in 2017, including the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge, scheduled for August 31 to September 3 at Willow Run Golf Course. As a stop on the LPGA Symetra Tour, the 6,640-yard, par-71 course is considered one of the finest in South Dakota, and it beautifully takes golfers through the rolling hills east of the city.
Additionally, more than 2,800 people registered for the 2016 Sioux Falls Marathon and Half-Marathon, which raised more than $23,500 for the Sanford Children’s Hospital/Children’s Miracle Network. The 2017 event will be held September 10.
And last spring, the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center welcomed the Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough Invitational, a historic event that for the first time featured riders from six countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the United States. This competition followed the first-ever PBR event in Sioux Falls held in 2015, and both events sold out. The PBR returns to Sioux Falls from March 31 to April 2.
Orsack’s list of must-see attractions while visiting Sioux Falls incudes:
Falls Park: This beautiful setting allows views of some of the first buildings constructed in Sioux Falls, as well as the city’s namesake: the Falls of the Big Sioux River, which have been the center of recreation and industry in the area since the city’s founding in 1856.
- Washington Pavilion: The region’s premier cultural, educational and entertainment center is located in downtown Sioux Falls.
- SculptureWalk: This is an epic exhibit of giant sculptures displayed year-round from the Washington Pavilion to Falls Park. The sculptures are owned by the artists and loaned out for one year. Members of the public can vote for their favorite, which receives the coveted “People’s Choice Award.”
- Great Hospitality: Sioux Falls also offers more than 650 restaurants, the giant Empire Mall with more than 140 retail stores and a vibrant downtown with summertime trolley rides.
At the rate Sioux Falls is evolving as a sports destination, might it get too big for its own good?
“I’ve lived here for 30 years, and the city has doubled in size without losing its charm,” Orsack says. “It will continue to grow in all the right ways.”