Tate Stensgaard, sports sales manager at the Sioux Falls (South Dakota) CVB, had first-hand knowledge of the intense atmosphere at Denny Sanford PREMIER Center. “Playing in the Summit League Tournament was the same feeling as opening night at the University of Wisconsin,” says Stensgaard, who was a forward on Western Illinois University men’s basketball team. “It’s [Denny Sanford PREMIER Center] a great place to play if you’re an athlete because fans really get into the game.” Stensgaard’s job now is to sell that excitement to event organizers to boost Sioux Falls’ sports tourism. But as Connect Sports found out, Stensgaard has a lot of tools in his arsenal. Here are a few reasons why Sioux Falls has proven adept at attracting the likes of Garth Brooks and Jack Nicklaus, to say nothing of youth and amateur athletes competing in elite events.
Denny Sanford PREMIER Center recently played host to Brooks for nine nights this fall. When not serving as a venue for music legends, it hosts legendary events like Stensgaard’s beloved annual Summit League Basketball Championships. With seating for up to 12,000, the facility hosts many marquee events and is connected to Sioux Falls Convention Center.
But the title for the biggest venue in Sioux Falls belongs to Sanford Sports Complex, a 162-acre site that blends nostalgia with modern amenities. The Sanford Pentagon regularly hosts premier youth basketball and volleyball events. Its 3,200-seat Heritage Court is home to Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Miami Heat’s G League squad and is the largest of nine courts.
Beyond the Pentagon, the complex also includes an iceplex with three full-sized rinks, an indoor tennis facility and the Fieldhouse, home to nine outdoor multipurpose (football and soccer primarily) fields and 62,000 square feet of indoor playing space. “The whole complex can host any sport you can think of all at once,” says Stensgaard.
“Our town is passionate about sports,” proclaims Krista Orsack, the CVB’s director of marketing and a Sioux Falls native. Looking at the city’s history, her claim is more than hometown pride.
The Division II Men’s Basketball Elite 8 at Heritage Court in 2017 put Sioux Falls on the national stage, via CBS. In 2016, Denny Sanford PREMIER Center took it up a notch, hosting early-round games of the NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Tournament. The women’s event, which aired on ESPN, included traditional powers: South Carolina, Tennessee and Syracuse. Orsack notes Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple recommended Sioux Falls based on his league’s experience at the destination—dating back to 2009.
Earlier this year, U.S. Youth Soccer’s Midwest Regional tournament brought 4,500 athletes from 13 states to South Dakota. Stensgaard says the weeklong tournament had an estimated $17 million economic impact.