Burning Man ticket requests far exceed supply

This year's Man design by Rod Garrett and Andrew Johnstone.
Courtesy of Black Rock City LLC

Burners' worst fears are about to come true: they'll be denied tickets to Burning Man when the results of the new lottery-based system are announced on Wednesday. But organizers say if everyone stays calm and relies on their community then they'll probably still get tickets.

Substantially more people registered for tickets than organizers expected, so much so that they believe burners and their allies ordered way more tickets than they'll need this year because of concerns about the new ticketing system and the fact that the event sold out early for the first time last year.

“It's big enough that we believe that all the demand for tickets is not new folks,” Larry Harvey – chair of SF-based Black Rock City LLC, which stages the event – told the Guardian. He refused to say how many people registered for tickets, but the LLC did say each registrant ordered 1.7 tickets, indicating a higher than usual number ordering the maximum of two tickets.

If it's true that most burners bought more than they needed, that also means there will be lots of tickets circulating through the Burning Man community, so Harvey and fellow board member Marian Goodell are urging everyone to not overreact, don't buy expensive tickets from scalpers, and take advantage of the LLC's new aftermarket ticket exchange program that will go online in a few weeks.

“If someone is looking for a ticket, we don't want them to go to eBay or Craigslist, we want them to turn to their community,” Harvey said. “We think the community is a better distributor than anyone.”

Goodell emphasized that the burner ethos calls for people to only sell tickets for face value – which is $240-390 for the 40,000 tickets going out next week – and she said she believes there will be enough tickets to satisfy demand if people don't panic and feed the scalpers' market. Those who don't follow that advice could also end up with counterfeit tickets, whereas the LLC will verify tickets it swaps.

“The secondary market is the community, and we don't want people to feel they have a commodity in their hand that will help them make the rent,” she told us. “You're really hurting your community if you're treating this like a commodity.”

But the unknown factor is how many ticket buyers are more profit-minded than community-minded, particularly after tickets were selling for almost double-face-value on average after tickets sold out last year, according to a study by SeatGeek. Goodell said only burners can keep the scalpers' market in check.

“We're being optimistic, but we were able to get more than 50,000 people to remove their trash [from Black Rock City every year],” Goodell said. “We know we can train people to behave in ways that are more community-minded.”

Many people criticized Burning Man for replacing the usual Internet ticket sales with the lottery system this year, but Harvey and Goodell both said they think the over-registration problem had more to do with tickets selling out last year than the new system.

Still, Harvey told us the transition could have been handled better: “If we had it to do over, we might do some things differently.”

As for whether the new system will end up being OK, Goodell said, “We won't know how it's working until we get to the event and see if people are happy.” But in short run, she said, “I'm going to have a lot more unhappy people than I was counting on.”

In addition to managing ticket exchanges through its website, BRC does still have one more ticket sales session planned for March 28, when 10,000 tickets will be sold online in a first come, first served system, like first day sales used to be.

As I chronicle in my book, The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture, Burning Man has grown from a small gathering on Baker Beach in 1986 to a thriving year-round culture that builds a temporary city of more than 50,000 people in Nevada's Black Rock Desert in late summer. Burners build the city and its art from scratch with their own resources, almost everything in this gift economy is offered for free, and everyone is encouraged to participate in its creation, enjoyment, and cleanup.

The event doubled in size since I started covered it in 2004, and it has spawned a network of regional events around the world, as well as offshoot organizations such as Black Rock Arts Foundation (which funds and facilitates public art off the playa), Burners Without Borders (which does disaster relief and other good works), and the Burning Man Project (a newly created nonprofit that will take over operations of the event in coming years).

The LLC is currently negotiating with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for permits that will allow the event to grow up to 70,000 people within five years, but Goodell cautioned against those who might see growth as an answer to this year's problems.

“Honestly, I don't want more people until we do a little tweaking to the departure process,” Goodell said, noting that people waited as much as nine hours this year to get off the playa and onto the two-lane highway that leads to the Black Rock Desert.

I asked whether they were entertaining any big new ideas for managing the growth of the event, such as how the popular Coachella music festival this year created two events with identical lineups to handle demand. Harvey didn't say specifically that was an option, but he did refer to his essay discussing this year's art theme, Fertility 2.0, which just belatedly went online.

“If you read my theme,” he told me, “it's all about the expansion of the culture.” Among other sentiments, Harvey wrote, “We are living in an age of mass production and consumption that is unsustainable. But culture, as a living system, has the power to create and recreate itself.”


Darpa Petri Dish...

Posted by Guest on Jan. 27, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

They need to stop with their whole "Welcome Home" talk. I NEVER had this much difficulty and grief getting into my home.

Posted by Guest jaded on Jan. 28, 2012 @ 7:41 am

I read their little email blurb, and they sounded like incompetent clowns desperately trying to spin damage control while pretending everything isn't going to hell in a handbasket, when it so obviously is.

They're saying "It's all good... it's all good... we've got it under control," but the look of terror in their eyes belies what they're really thinking: "Oh. shit."

And the worst part about it is that all those "unexpected" things that went wrong were *EXACTLY* what *EVERYBODY* was predicting from a mile away.

I've never been one of the Jaded Burner types predicting the imminent end of Burning Man (or lamenting how it had already died), but when they announced that they were going to do this back-assed ticket system, I thought... yep, I think they may have finally succeeded in killing it.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 28, 2012 @ 9:28 pm


Posted by Guest jaded on Jan. 29, 2012 @ 5:47 am

Nobody, and I mean no one, liked the lottery system. Smart people pointed out the problems. It was unfair to the people who are most dedicated to Burning Man and responsible. Now it's a total disaster and has created a lot of bad feelings and frustration which is going to hurt the ethos of Burning Man. I think the self-serving statement by Larry and Marion that this was not due to the lottery is insulting to us, and that they still refuse to accept this idea was very bad. Let's hope they start listening to other people after this.

Posted by Old Time Burner on Jan. 29, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

How is this even news? Steven Jones needs a real job.

Posted by bradypus on Jan. 30, 2012 @ 10:33 am
Posted by Greg on Jan. 30, 2012 @ 11:16 am

and then there is the 50 + thousand people interested in it that are not living in S.F. or "frisco" as you locals like to call it >:)

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

My point was that since this is primarily a local news outlet, the fact that a good chunk of this city's residents are interested is reason enough for it to be worthy of sfbg coverage. Didn't mean to imply that others aren't.

But fyi... we DON'T call it frisco here. SF is fine. Many prefer "The City," since we are, after all, the main cultural center of the Bay Area, if not California. But definitely not "frisco."

Posted by Greg on Jan. 30, 2012 @ 7:04 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

So he reports on things like Burning Man and pot as if he were still 17 years old and nothing else matters.

That's the thing with San Francisco. You can come here and never grow up.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

I do report on pot and Burning Man, two exports for which this city should be proud, as well as a wide range of other issues. That's the thing about San Francisco, you don't need to be a dour old fuddy-duddy here, and you can actually write honestly and without cynicism about simple joys that fun-loving people embrace. If growing up means adopting your bitterness and judgment, well, I'd rather remain in Neverneverland.

Posted by steven on Jan. 30, 2012 @ 7:45 pm

go steven!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2012 @ 1:56 am

Now 50% less fattening! It sounds more like Magic Mountain with nipple rings each year. At least the "organizers" are doing their best to make sure it dies a slow death.

Posted by Chromefields on Jan. 30, 2012 @ 11:02 am

So the lucky ones are getting their tickets today... or at least the email that says you'll get tickets sometime in June.

And in this email they tell you that if you get more than you actually plan to use, you should be good and not scalp, and use their own service that will allow you to sell your ticket back at face value so that someone else can buy it at that price point. Ha! Fat chance! But here's the real kicker... they decided to charge a "restocking" fee to pretty much guarantee that no one uses this "service!" Because even if you're in an exceptionally civic-minded mindset and you don't want to gouge your fellow burners, there's still no way you're going to sell the ticket for LESS than what you got it for! So I expect very, very few tickets to be available on the exchange.

And to make matters even worse, they're going to wait to deliver the tickets till June. So that if you don't have a ticket now, there's no way you'll know whether or not you're going until June. That means fewer big art projects, which require planning.

If I didn't know better, I'd say they're consciously TRYING to kill this thing.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 31, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

Planning to go with 4 other guys. 5 separate registrations for 1 ticket each. Not even one of us got a ticket. I know sometimes a coin flips tails 5 times in a row, but it feels like something weird is going on.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

Not random, but a matter of percentages - if thousands of other burners requested 10 times as many tickets as they needed (out of the fear of scarcity induced by this lottery system) then it's more likely that the 5 of you could get shut out. Your odds were probably closer to 5-in-a-million, rather than 5-in-50,000. A majority of my campmates got no tickets either.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

The only way they can reconcile this one is if they get the left over 10,000 tickets to pre-established camps that have been fucked in the ass by the lottery system.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2012 @ 10:31 pm

My gut feelings is that the Russian's are involved. I just realized how easy it would have been to make a bot to register 1000 times. Just saying, poorly executed idea

Posted by Moderoti on Feb. 02, 2012 @ 10:36 pm

Read the other nice article titled above, by the same person - Steven Jones! One definite way it should have been set up...ALL grants, art projects, volunteers & theme camps, etc. should have been exempt from the lottery system period and sold a ticket as a contributor!

It's like you're going to see a new Broadway show in N.Y.C. and they sold all of the tickets....And now the actors or players can't even get a ticket & get in to put on the show itself? Go figure....I think some call it GREED and a dis-respect for the artist / actor community....."The Death of Burning Man"

R.J. Scheurer
Automotive Art Galleries, LLC

Posted by Guest Bob Scheurer on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

cdvdvv cscscas

Posted by abcd on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 4:37 am