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NOV. 3, 2017 - VOL. 54 No. 2

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COVER STORY

Collaboration helps drive
regional economic development

By Rob Swenson
For the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce

Ten years ago, community business leaders tried for a second time to lure the Minnesota Vikings´ football training camp to Sioux Falls. Although the attempt fell short, the committee´s work led to the creation of the Sioux Falls Sports Authority, which has been a big win for the recreational and economic growth of the city in the last decade.

The Sports Authority was formed in 2006 to recruit major sporting events to the Sioux Falls area. The wisdom of creating the organization started becoming evident in 2009, when the Summit League Basketball Championships moved to Sioux Falls. Other successes have followed, turning Sioux Falls into a college sports hub.

Consider the schedule this March, which will be the Sports Authority´s biggest month ever: in a span of less than four weeks, Sioux Falls will host four major events that the Sports Authority helped bring to the city.


In 2015, South Dakota State University’s men’s team defeated the University of South Dakota’s men’s team to move on to the championship game where they lost to North Dakota State University. Photo by Dave Eggen.

The fun begins with the Division I Summit League Basketball Tournament, which will be held March 5-8 at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center. The tournament is a national attention-grabber because winners of the men´s and women´s tournaments will advance to the NCAA´s highly popular Big Dance.

Three other major events also will contribute to the madness of March in Sioux Falls:

March 11-12: The Sports Authority, with the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, will host the NCAA Division II Wrestling National Championship at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.

March 22-23: The Sports Authority, again with the NSIC, will host the NCAA Division II Women´s Basketball Elite Eight Tournament at the Sanford Pentagon.

March 25 and 27: The Sports Authority, with the Summit League, will host a Division I Women´s Basketball Regional at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center. The Regional incorporates the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds of the NCAA Division I Women´s Basketball Tournament.

March Madness

NCAA Division I Summit League
Basketball Tournament
March 5-8 , Denny Sanford PREMIER Center
Co-hosted by the Sioux Falls Sports Authority
and The Summit League

NCAA Division II Wrestling
National Championship
March 11-12, Denny Sanford PREMIER Center
Co-hosted by the Sioux Falls Sports Authority
and Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC)

NCAA Division II Women´s
Basketball Elite Eight Tournament
March 22-23, Sanford Pentagon
Co-hosted by the Sioux Falls Sports Authority
and Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC)

Division I Women´s Basketball Regional,
which includes the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds of the NCAA Division I Women´s Basketball Tournament
March 25 and 27, Denny Sanford PREMIER Center
Co-hosted by the Sioux Falls Sports Authority
and The Summit League

"We´ve really moved the ball a long way down the field in a short period of time," said Kevin Lampe, Sanford Health, who has chaired the Sports Authority Board of Directors since its start. "The Summit League Tournament created a lot of momentum for a lot of the good things that have happened since."

The Sports Authority continues to have ambitious goals for the future, too. Two new staff members, Executive Director Bryan Miller and Project Director Joe Millar, will be trying to attract a first and second round of the NCAA Division I Men´s Basketball Tournament and a regional NCAA Division I Men´s Ice Hockey Tournament to Sioux Falls.

"We´re only hitting the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Sioux Falls can host," Miller said. "We see a lot of potential for growth."

The Sioux Falls Marathon, held annually in September, is becoming the Sports Authority´s other marquee event. The run, which includes a full marathon, half marathon, relays and a 5K, is considered to have substantial growth potential. About 2,200 people participated in the marathon-related events in 2015, and participation is expected to increase for this year´s event, which will be held Sept. 11. Registration for the 2016 event began Jan. 15; go to siouxfallsmarathon.com for more information.

"The goal is to continue to grow the race, eventually to 5,000 participants," Millar said. At that point, the Sioux Falls Marathon would become more widely recognized among runners as a major event and could be grown even more, he said.

Starting from scratch

The Sports Authority is an independent commission structured as 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. It gets its funding from event revenue and corporate sponsorships.

Kelby Krabbenhoft, Sanford Health, and Dana Dykhouse, First PREMIER Bank, were among the civic leaders who played key leadership roles in getting the Sports Authority started. The Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and Sioux Falls Development Foundation were among the other "fire starters," said Lampe.

Initially, trying to woo the Summit League Tournament to the aging Arena was like "putting lipstick on a pig," said Lampe, who had prior experience with a sports authority in Joplin, Mo. Landing the tournament hinged on community promises to upgrade the Arena, which at the time was 48 years old.

Improvements were made, and the league moved its post-season tournament from Tulsa, Okla., to Sioux Falls in 2009. Basketball fans responded by setting an attendance record the first year the tournament was held in Sioux Falls, and records have been falling on a regular basis ever since. The Summit League tournament was held at the Sioux Falls Arena from 2009-14. Last year, for the first time, the Summit League´s combined post-season tournaments for men and women were held in the new Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, and attracted a record-high 60,007 fans. Last October, the Summit League and the Sports Authority exercised a contract option that will keep the tournament in Sioux Falls through 2022.

Summit League commissioner Tom Douple said Sioux Falls initially was selected to host the league tournament for a number of reasons, but foremost was the commitment of the Sports Authority to produce a first-class event.


The Sioux Falls Marathon continues to grow each year. The route takes runners through the city, including the River Greenway downtown. Photo courtesy of 605 Running Company.

"The support of the community and everyone associated with the event overwhelmed us on our site visit. They have everything in Sioux Falls that we were looking for in a host. Great hotels, plenty of restaurants, nice amenities, corporate support, professional staff at the Convention & Visitors Bureau, volunteer support, media coverage and a genuine interest in Division I men´s and women´s basketball," he said.

The Sports Authority and the Summit League have had a great partnership for the past seven years, Douple said, and he looks forward to working with the organization´s new staff on future tournaments. "I think both Joe (Millar) and Bryan (Miller) are going to be great additions to the Sports Authority," he said.

The drawing power of regional colleges, especially South Dakota State University in Brookings, the University of South Dakota in Vermillion and North Dakota State University in Fargo, has also been a big plus for the tournament´s success. The University of Nebraska-Omaha men´s and women´s teams, also along the Interstate 29 corridor, became eligible for the tournament this year and should add to regional interest in the event.

"The Summit League Basketball Championship gives us an opportunity to showcase our city," said Teri Schmidt, Executive Director of the Sioux Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau. "And the impact of the tournament can be seen throughout our hotels, restaurants, stores, gas stations and beyond."

Evolution of the organization

Initially, the Sports Authority had no staff. However, it had and maintains close working relationships with city government, the School District and organizations such as the Convention & Visitors Bureau. In addition to the support of civic groups, the Sports Authority is assisted by dozens of volunteers.

Mike Sullivan, a veteran of the sports administration business, became the Sports Authority´s first executive director in 2008 and served through 2012. Wes Hall succeeded Sullivan and held the job from 2013 through January 2016, when he left to head the Omaha Sports Commission.

Miller, an experienced athletic administrator at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, was hired in January to succeed Hall as the executive director.

Millar was hired last August to succeed Kole Nordmann as project director. He previously worked as the media/public relations director with the Sioux Falls Skyforce basketball team.

The two staffers´ last names are similar, which might be confusing. The two men also share an optimistic belief in the organization´s mission to keep developing Sioux Falls as a venue for major sporting events.

Miller and Millar work from a third-floor office in the Commerce Center in downtown Sioux Falls, which is also home to the Chamber of Commerce, Convention & Visitors Bureau and Development Foundation, but they will spend a lot of their busy March at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center and the Sanford Pentagon.

"Sioux Falls has done an awesome job of supporting events that have been brought in. It´s a lot of work. It´s a lot of people doing it, not just us," Millar said. "It´s going to be busy but fun."

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