Sioux Falls Skyforce's Christmas Day Tradition Dates Back 25 Years

Even Sioux Falls Skyforce owner Mike Heineman isn’t quite sure how his NBA D-League team wove itself into its home city’s Christmas Day plans for 24 of the past 25 years. But the Skyforce keep scheduling games on Christmas Day, and the fans keep filling the stands to watch them play. “When we first pitched it to the leagues, they all kind of thought we were crazy, like, ‘Who would go on Christmas?’” Heineman says. “But for some reason, it works in Sioux Falls.”

The tradition has now endured through three other leagues -- the Skyforce spent their first 12 seasons in the Continental Basketball Association (1989-2000), a year in the now-defunct Intercontinental Basketball League (2000-01), and six more years in the CBA (2001-06) before joining the NBA D-League -- two arenas and six NBA affiliates. The only thing that could stop the near-4,500 fans from flocking to the old Sioux Falls Arena was 10 inches of snow in 2009, which forced the event’s only cancellation. Tickets to Wednesday’s game -- against the Iowa Energy at 7 p.m. local time -- sold out by noon on Christmas Eve.

It’s not the team’s success that keeps South Dakotans coming back; the Skyforce are 12-11 on Christmas in their history. It’s not any out-of-the-ordinary marketing campaign, either. “There’s no extra special ad throughout town. We promote it the same amount we do regular games,” says Heineman, although this year’s marketing efforts include mascot Thunder’s halftime gift giveaway and a player sing-along video (see below).

The only way to understand the phenomenon is to understand Sioux Falls, nicknamed “The Best Little City in America,” and its approximately 150,000 residents’ attachment to their Skyforce. “It’s always a different crowd than we have at a normal game. It’s the one game people come with their families to,” says Heineman.

“It’s the one thing going on in town that night,” says media relations director Brett Hansen.