Burning Man ticket fiasco renews criticism of SF-based Black Rock City LLC



Burning Man is a hyper-collaborative event controlled by its tens of thousands of participants — except when it isn't, as when policies are dictated by the six-member board of SF-based Black Rock City LLC. And that core conflict now has many burners seething, without tickets to this year's event, critical of a badly designed new ticket distribution system, and wary of reassurances being offered by the LLC.

Two of the most influential board members — event founder Larry Harvey and Marian Goodell, who handles business operations and communications — called me on Jan. 27 to tip me off that the new lottery-based ticketing system had way too many ticket requests and to enlist my help to spreading the word that burners should remain calm, trust that there will be enough tickets circulating in the burner community, and avoid buying from scalpers.

They were confident that people were gaming the new system by registering for the maximum of two tickets and even using friends, family members, or secondary credit cards to improve their odds of getting some of the 40,000 tickets being sold for $240-390. "It's big enough that we believe that all the demand for tickets is not new folks," Harvey told me.

But they didn't want people to panic on Feb. 1 when everyone who registered was to be notified about whether they were awarded tickets. So they're quickly designing an aftermarket ticket exchange that will debut in a couple weeks and telling people to use it and refuse to pay more than face value for tickets.

"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," Goodell said, chiding burners who are tempted to make a profit by saying, "You're really hurting your community if you're treating this like a commodity."

But online responses to the news have been blistering, with many expressing frustrations at the unilateral approach the LLC has taken to leading such a collaborative culture.

"It's exactly as expected. How anyone could have thought this would go any other way is beyond me. They should scrap the entire lottery and just open general ticket sales before more damage is done," Christopher Bently wrote as a comment on my Facebook link to my Guardian post.

As a business person and owner of the Bently Reserve, which hosts many burner events, Bently isn't a typical LLC basher. In fact, he's such a strong supporter that the LLC last year appointed him a board member of the Burning Man Project, the new nonprofit entity that Harvey and his board created to take over operations of the event sometime in the next few years.

But Bently said the new ticketing system, about which he was not consulted, was a mistake. "The second I saw it announced, I knew there would be problems. It didn't seem very well thought out or planned out," he told me.

This is just the latest in a string of missteps by the LLC in the last year, as many online commenters attested. First, people were mad about how the LLC board is tightly controlling the transition to a nonprofit. Then they were mad that tickets sold out early last year, with little done to prevent gouging by scalpers. And then they were upset with the new lottery-based ticketing system.

In each case, the criticism was the same: why isn't the LLC enlisting help from its community to create better systems? For example, when I asked Harvey and Goodell last year why they didn't create ticket registration and aftermarket systems to prevent scalping -– a question I reiterated this year regarding the new system -– they said they just didn't want to take that step, that it was too difficult, and that everything would work out.


translates to "I'm still going to get paid and maintain the oligarchy"

Posted by Guest Shizzy on Feb. 02, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

Year after year there are problems with ticketing. It only seems to be getting worse. Concerts and festivals bigger than Burning Man have figured it out. It really makes you wonder what these six board members do all day long.

Posted by Speck on Feb. 02, 2012 @ 3:22 pm
Posted by steven on Feb. 02, 2012 @ 5:42 pm

They can still just refund eveyrone's money and do something else. But they won't. Becuase that would mean that they would have to admit they were wrong. And they are never wrong because they are perfect. Perfect idiots. I'm absolutly giddy with delight. They will all eat each other. They just handed this thing to the scalpers. The comedy here is perfect. Now maybe everyone can see what I've been dealing with for all this time. Pure idiocy. These people couldn't run a coin operated laundry mat.

Not even I can save them from this debacle....


Posted by Chicken John on Feb. 02, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

They have entered into binding contracts with the lottery winners and taken their money. It would be like telling the MegaBucks winner that he isn't going to get the money after all because the lottery losers didn't like the outcome. Slam-dunk lose in a class-action lawsuit by the Burning Man lottery winners. However there are options that would stop the scalpers dead in their tracks. Specifically, all tickets go out registered to the name on the credit card. Either you show your id at the gate, or you fax it to them when requesting a name change. So what about all of the scalpers who bought under phony names? The Borg buys back tickets at face. Suddenly lots of tickets will be available and the scalpers will be locked out.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2012 @ 11:33 pm

I'm getting my tickets from Dre.


Posted by Simon DeLaPlaya on Feb. 03, 2012 @ 10:35 am

I am a 14 year veteran... 14 years in a row. I was not awarded a ticket. I am VERY, VERY, VERY disappointed in the new system. I must say, that if I don't get a ticket to this event & the BORG doesn't fix this, THIS YEAR... I WILL be going someplace else with my vacation dollars. The REAL problem that the BORG is facing is they have broken the "habit" of Burning Man. People such as myself, that have been attending for over a decade, are CRUSHED by this out come. Because they have interrupted the consecutive habit & those who have attended for decades, are focusing their creative energies else ware. RE-CREATING that habit of attending may prove to be an impossibility. The BORG has destroyed the community feeling.. Personally, I feel as if I have been cheated on...
There has always been a running "joke" that last year was better than this year. The unfortunate fact is... This is going to be a VERY REAL comment this time around. It is VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE for this to be good year, due to the SERIOUS camp fragmentation that is going to be certain this year. If you have been to Burn 2011, relish in it. It TRUELY is, going to be better than this year. The Burn has run it's course & the reason that the Burn WILL fail, is due to it's internal screwup.

The Mayans were right 2012 is the end of (our world).... Nice job BORG! You destroyed something VERY special...I hope your proud.

Posted by Ramgoofy on Feb. 05, 2012 @ 11:03 am

I feel like the hope for nice burn this year is slipping away with each passing day...

Posted by Marco Pollo on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 9:06 pm

"I will be going some place else with my vacation dollars."

There it is.

Posted by Chicken John on Feb. 05, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

2012 the end of Burningman as we all know it. Last year was the best in a long time. I did not get a ticket this year and am not going to start to scramble to find one at way over face value either. Last year I helped build the LOVE installation but more than that over the last few years i have started my own event of saying the mourners kaddish for all that have passed at the temple. This was an event that I listed in the jackrabbit speaks, event listing at playa info. I made copies of the mourners kaddish in phonetics so everyone one who wanted could read it. I went out there every day at 4:00 no matter what was going on 60 mph winds duat storms and all. Over the course of doing this many came to honor to their loved ones. This last year one day it was just my wife and I and when we started i noticed someone looking our way to see what we were doing so we stopped and started to talk with these 2 people. Ends up that it was Harley and her partner they were coming to the temple to give honor to Rod Garrett if your a burner you know who he is. It really hit me hard at what we were doing out there. Before we started i told them this is not about religion its about honoring our loved ones and even though i never met Rod Garrett he also was a loved member of our community. I told them it's not important if you cant say all the words right it is your intention and thoughts that matter. We went on and said the kaddish in the best way we could as a group calling out to the spirit of all the beings that have passed.

This year there will be no kaddish being said at the temple because I or my wife did not get tickets. Yes the sun will come up the same as it does everyday, i'll just be seeing it from a different point of view.

I feel bad for the people who show up to the temple at 4:00 to say a prayer for all that have passed on in this world only to find us not there!!!

The real LOSER in this is BURNINGMAN. They just lost someone that was a particpant not a spectator. In the 13 years i have been going to burningman i have spent 11 of those being a major part of a theme camp that at it's height we had 400+ members, 5 years building large art for all to enjoy on the playa and 3 years of offering kaddish at the temple and this year it all comes to a screeching halt.

ThankYou BMORG for throwing the largest monkey wrench it to Burningman and destorying all that you have created.

2012 the end of the world as we know it.


Posted by Berger on Feb. 08, 2012 @ 10:26 am

you veterans need to realize you can't shame the Org by saying they're going to lose you as a participant, because the Org WANTS to lose you as a participant.

truth is, veterans are all too much trouble for the Org. you make suggestions for change that you call 'improvements' and when the Org doesn't jump at stupid ideas you bite the hand that feeds you. quite frankly, the Org hates you.

why else would they give 40% of the tickets to virgins? are you so blind?

the Org wants attendees - ticket holders - not people who have a personal and spiritual interest in their event. mere ticket holders are obedient and docile. they're easily impressed and are the most enthusiastic about the event from year 1 to 3. year 4 and beyond, they become liabilities to the event.

the 10k hand-picked by the Org are the real burners. they will make the event the spectacle that the Org wants in order to impress the ticket holders enough to keep the event selling out.

veterans should go off and make their own events.

Posted by cuddles on Feb. 20, 2012 @ 5:22 am

Consumers patronize resellers for reasons of convenience and availability. The convenience factor relates to being able to obtain tickets locally, and also being able to make alternate selections on the spot if the preferred performance is not available. The availability factor relates to the fact that all tickets may have been sold out at the box office, requiring the purchaser to either obtain tickets from the reseller, or not to see the show. Thanks.
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Posted by jaffa on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 5:21 am

For as long as there have been events with tickets, there have been scalpers. Online resellers are nothing new. The only difference is the scale and spread of their operations. Once upon a time, you had to go down to the arena or stadium on the night of the event and pay cash to some shady guy standing on the corner. The scalper was limited to selling tickets to events in his (or her) town, the only customers were the ones who showed up. Now, scalpers can sell to anyone, and for any event in the world.
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Posted by SDJ on May. 02, 2013 @ 4:59 am