Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Cost Taxpayers $12 Billion. Here's a Better Lineup for That Price.

Social, yes, but not distant. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally cost taxpayers $12 billion.EXPAND
Social, yes, but not distant. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally cost taxpayers $12 billion.
Michael Ciaglo/Getty
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2:38 p.m. Thursday: Updated to include more information about the study.

During the Age of Enlightenment, philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke laid the ideological foundation for the Declaration of Independence’s bold creed that "all men are … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

To put that expression in laymen’s terms: Human beings have certain rights that must be affirmed, because God said so.

See, the Framers used this rationale to codify into law some of our most fundamental liberties. Members of the Philadelphia Convention such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton had a rigorous debate over what protections should be afforded to all civilians, and even in spite of the wide spectrum of disagreement did they arrive at a unanimous consensus: The rights of all people to see Smash Mouth and Trapt at a motorcycle rally in South Dakota shall not be infringed, lest the floodgates unleash the tumultuous waters of tyranny.

Alas, with all liberties comes a cost. Just as we have to pay public defenders to uphold the Sixth Amendment, so these days we must we also incur $12 billion in public health costs just so people can jam out to “All Star” and “Headstrong” in a Podunk town outside of Rapid City. According to a new report from the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, taxpayers had to front exactly that for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which took place in early August. Researchers also tied more than 266,000 COVID-19 cases to the 10-day event.

We don’t need to tell you that $12 billion is a lot of money, but consider for a moment the size of that figure. If you received a $5,000 payment every single day from the time Christopher Columbus landed in Haiti (Dec. 6, 1492) to today, you still wouldn’t have $1 billion. You would have $963,800,000.

So to put in perspective just how much the public paid for Smash Mouth and Trapt to play a rally in South Dakota, we’re going to pretend that we’re putting together a music festival here in Dallas. Any projected costs would obviously be crude estimates, so for the sake of argument, we’re going to truly pad the numbers.

Let’s say we’re doing this festival in Fair Park, and because we’re fancy high-rollers, let’s say we’re paying the city of Dallas $1 million to rent the facilities for 10 days. That leaves us $11,999,000,000 left from the $12 billion.

Since we want nothing but the best for our music market, let’s drop $750,000 on eight stages. That puts the stage budget at $6 million, which means we have $11,993,000,000 left.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get to the juicy side of this and book the lineup. Since money’s obviously no object, we’re going to drop $20 million on some A-list talent to headline each day. We’re going to get Beyoncé, Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, U2, George Strait, the Eagles, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Garth Brooks. That puts us at $200,000,000, which leaves us $11,793,000,000.

Let’s make it rain and drop $15 million on the following artists:

Ariana Grande
Daft Punk
Britney Spears
Lady Gaga
Fleetwood Mac
Bon Jovi
Jimmy Buffett
Dave Matthews Band
Childish Gambino

With $225,000,000 for this undercard, that brings us to $11,568,000,000 left for the festival. We still have a lot of bread remaining, so let’s give the following artists a $10 million payday:

Backstreet Boys
Tame Impala
The Weeknd
The Killers
Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg
Mariah Carey
Post Malone
Lana Del Rey
Hall & Oates
Kendrick Lamar
Travis Scott
Jack White
Zac Brown Band
No Doubt
Katy Perry
LCD Soundsystem
J Balvin
The Strokes
My Chemical Romance
Cardi B
Neil Young
Ozzy Osbourne

That right there cost us $300,000,000, so with $11,268,000,000 left over, it’d probably behoove us to dish out $5 million to 50 artists that draw 3,500-7,000 people, such as Kacey Musgraves, Lil Uzi Vert, etc. Even with that generous allotment, we still haven’t quite spent $1 billion. And while, yes, there are a lot more expenses than the ones that have been documented thus far, it’s safe to say that any festival organizer that can afford to pay $20 million to 10 headliners each shouldn’t have to worry about unforeseen costs.

Unless, of course, they somehow manage to attract the star power of Trapt and Smash Mouth.


So turns out, the IZA Institute of Labor Economics' data and methodology in this report are rather suspect. Republican officials in South Dakota such as Gov. Kristi Noem have expectedly disputed the veracity of the study, but experts such as Oxford epidemiologist Jennifer Beam Dowd have called into question its seemingly presumptive nature. We stand by the assertion that this is the best music festival lineup that $12 billion can buy, but we would be remiss to not disclose the flaws of this non-peer reviewed study. If you're interested in finding out more about it, check out this comprehensive analysis by nonpartisan fact-checking website Politifact.

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