SMG details decision to cut RibFest: ‘It’s not something we took lightly’

Jan. 11, 2018

A couple years of dwindling attendance and rising costs ultimately prompted SMG Sioux Falls to stop producing RibFest.

The company, which manages the Denny Sanford Premier Center complex and other venues, announced Jan. 10 it would no longer produce the 20-year-old event.

“This is one of those things we’ve been studying for a while. It’s not something we took lightly,” general manager Terry Torkildson said.

Here’s a closer look at what happened.

Changing times

After peaking at 47,000 visitors when the event moved to the W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds in 2014, attendance started to drop. Torkildson said it was noticeable when graduation for the Sioux Falls School District was moved because of the changing school calendar. There was a conflict with the popular First Friday event downtown. And a few years of cooler, wetter weather didn’t help.

The cost of talent also kept going up, he said.

“As entertainment venues proliferated, so did casinos. The level of talent we were bringing in is the same talent casinos are buying, so the prices for the artists have gone up, and it wasn’t financially viable anymore.”

The event at times broke even and at other times required a subsidy, he said.

Alternatives didn’t work

SMG staff approached “many different groups to see if they were interested” without success, Torkildson said, including groups that might have wanted to move the event somewhere it could have had stronger attendance all day instead of mostly at night.

“We talked to everyone we could think of who made sense,” he said.

They also looked at moving the venue back to the Premier Center campus, “but we always were bumped up against the Canaries when we had it here. And we if have more events, if we have a concert (wanting) the Premier Center and RibFest taking up a lot, we’d hate to turn down a concert, so that didn’t make sense.”

They looked at changing the date, too.

“The rib vendors travel a circuit pretty much every year, so you’re pretty locked into a certain time period once you have one. You can (change), but as you look at the calendar in Sioux Falls of things that are happening, events downtown, JazzFest, it’s hard to find a window when you’re not up against something.”

SMG started producing the event with Pepper Entertainment in 2015. The fact that both agreed the best option was to discontinue helped solidify the decision, Torkildson said.

“It’s more a financial decision than anything to do with resources,” he said. “We have plenty of resources (with staff) but feel we can use those resources in a more effective way in the facilities we’re managing, and if we can bring events here, we’ll make more money.”

RibFest ending after 20 years

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SMG details decision to cut RibFest: ‘It’s not something we took lightly’

Here’s a look behind the scenes at what led up to SMG’s decision to cancel RibFest.

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