Burning Man ticket fiasco creates an uncertain future

The Burning Man community is ablaze with frustrations and doubts over this year's event.

UPDATED WITH LLC RESPONSES BELOW   Is it the end of Burning Man as we know it? That's certainly the way things are looking to thousands of longtime burners who didn't get tickets when the results of a controversial new ticket lottery system were announced on Tuesday evening, particularly as big picture information emerged in online discussions yesterday.

[SFBG update: Will theme camps receive the remaining tickets?]

Personally, I was awarded the maximum two tickets I requested at the $320 level (my sister already claimed the other, so don't even ask), but I'm feeling a little survivor's guilt as I hear from the vast majority of my burner friends who didn't get tickets. And if it wasn't already clear that scalpers have effectively gamed the new system, that became apparent yesterday when batches of up to eight tickets were listed for as much as $1,500 each on eBay and other online outlets.

As I've attended Burning Man since 2001 and covered it for the Guardian and my book, The Tribes of Burning Man, I've become involved with many camps and collectives over the years. So over the last couple days, I've been privy to lots of online discussions and surveys, and it appears that only about a third of burners who registered for tickets actually received them (organizers have refused to say how many people registered for the 40,000 tickets sold this week, so it's tough to assess whether scalpers were more effective than burners at buying them).

The huge number of burners without tickets is a big problem for theme camps and art collectives that rely heavily on their members to pay dues and work long hours to prepare often elaborate camps, art cars, or installations, some of which are now in doubt. Many people are so frustrated that they've pledged not to attend this year, and even those of us that did get tickets are questioning whether we want to go if some of our favorite people aren't – particularly if they're replaced by rich newbies willing to spend a grand on a ticket.

Theme camps are the basic building blocks of Black Rock City – a central tenet of my book and regular claim of event organizers – and the work they do to build their camps and plan fundraisers to pay for them has already begun, only with far more uncertainty than usual this year. And that will also exacerbate a tension that already exists between grant-funded art projects (which usually get free tickets for their volunteer builders) and big camps that don't qualify for tickets, such as sound camps or independently funded art projects.

For now, most burners seem to be willing to wait a beat or two – as Black Rock City LLC is urging, a message that I willingly helped disseminate and that I support – to see whether enough extra tickets purchased by community-minded burners are offered for sale at face value using an aftermarket ticket exchange the LLC is hurriedly setting up right now. Some camps and projects have created internal ticket exchanges to try to take care of their own first. And there's still the secondary ticket sale with the last 10,000 tickets coming on March 28.

But the frustrations are palpable, and there is widespread concern that Burning Man has jumped the shark and will be changed by the series of official missteps in the last year. Dozens of people have independently asked why, after the event sold out last year and scalpers made a killing, the LLC didn't require each ticket to be registered to an individual and transferred only through a regulated aftermarket system, which would prevent gouging by scalpers. I've asked organizers that same question each of the last two years, and I was only told that it seemed like too much trouble and that things would work out.

Well, most burners don't think things are working out very well. Many are still willing to wait and see, and this certainly is a resourceful community, so perhaps things seem more bleak now than they will in a month or two when playa preparations really kick into gear. But if not, the LLC could be facing a real crisis of confidence in its leadership of an event that we all help create, and perhaps even an open rebellion of its core members.

Many longtime burners are already making other vacation plans for this year, some are even pondering plans to create alternative events, and there are a significant number of them who have tapped the spirit of these political times and suggested it's time to “Occupy Burning Man” or “Occupy Black Rock City.”

Whatever happens, the Year of the Dragon seems to have brought with it the old Chinese proverb: may you live in interesting times. I'll continue covering new developments in this most interesting of years, so stay in touch.

Sincerely, Scribe

UPDATE (5 PM): LLC board member Marian Goodell just returned my call and said the organization leaders huddled up today to work on solutions to problems raised by the ticket shortfalls. "We're genuinely really putting our heads together today. We're listening, we really are," she said. "It's very real for us, I get it."

She recognizes that it's a big problem for established theme camps and art collectives having tickets for only about a third of their members, a figure that she also confirmed. "It's clear that the theme camps and art projects are a significant part of the community, and this situation is causing problems for them," she said. "That's the part that will hurt us if we don't take another look at this."

Goodell also acknowledges that it doesn't appear there are as many tickets available within those established burner networks as she had hoped would be the case: "I doesn't look like camps are sitting on a lot of tickets." But she also said that she doesn't think the lion's share went to scalpers. "We don't think there are 10,000 people out there looking to scalp tickets," she said. "Putting them up for sale is not the same thing as them being sold." She reiterated her appeal that people don't use scalpers for tickets but wait for community-based sources and solutions.

But Goodell said it was too late to re-do this week's lottery -- "not possible," she said -- even though the physical tickets won't be mailed out until June. She said the LLC has divided up information-gathering tasks now and will regroup soon to decide how to proceed, with options including tweaks to the rules for the March 28 ticket sale or working with the BLM to bump up the population cap, an option that would raise other problems.

"We have many different challenges: scalping, community development, and population," Goodell said, reiterating her concern that increasing the population would make logistical problems like the long exodus wait even worse. But whether that's even a possibility will depend on the Environmental Impact Statement that is expected to be completed in March.


Let's hope next year better

Posted by GuestNext year on Jul. 06, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

I remember as a small kid seeing a brief newscast or documentary about burning man. It seemed beyond amazing - Space, freedom, carefree. It was all about the lack of restraints, the lack of a 'big brother' entity forcing people around the rat maze.
The people created the art, they didn't go to watch it. The men and women ran around naked in body paint and anything that made them become something that they weren't. I never went to burning man, and I never would now, because it has become an absolute mockery of its original intention. I am sad that everything in this world that starts off pure and raw ends up corrupted and polluted by antiquated social rules and laws. Burning man should burn out.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 04, 2012 @ 7:31 am

I went in 2001, 2002, and 2003. In 2003 my partner and I left before the burn because the vibe was not good for us. We noticed things had changed in that year. I hadn't been since. But now 10 years on, I was fondly remembering the good times of 2002, and was thinking of getting a ticket, and just learned of this controversial mess.
It is interesting that I'm reading the same comments people were discussing back in 2003/2004... the organization is poorly run and has its own agenda (not you), too many new people and less creativity. If people are arguing that creativity is down these past few years, then it must really be down from 10 years ago. There is something to be said in all of this, in regards to human psychology and experience in general: the apparent need to make "us and them" arguments, and the feeling that things will never be good as they once were.
There is clearly a real need for other events: creative, original events. To be organized by other people. I urge the creative community of burners to do that... Go make a new event. It might be different, but it could be even better.

Posted by mtn scientist on Feb. 14, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

I should mention that in those 10 years out of burning man, I did get alot of stuff done, most notably get a masters degree. It is worth mentioning that there is alot to do beyond burning man, and perhaps the importance of it lies in the ability to carry lessons learned during the experience to the rest of your life. Such as pursuing monumental and creative endeavors, being involved in community and charities, and living a fuller life. So if you miss out on the event this year, maybe it is just a good opportunity for you to do something even bigger and better in your life.

Posted by mtn scientist on Feb. 14, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

you comment is very inspiring, i just failed to get a ticket (for the 3d time) and seems like there are chances i wont make it for Burning Man:(
and reading smth like that makes me think better. thanks:)

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 3:58 am

Thanks for the inspiration :-)

Posted by Guest on Feb. 14, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

well I was gonna start going this year but soundz like a disaster.. I am not gonna cough up $750 a ticket just for a week in the sun. BM sounds really awesome but if it is getting congested AND tix prices are soaring I'll find something else to do this summer.

One of these years.. Bonk

Posted by Guest on Feb. 14, 2012 @ 8:17 am

I've heard they will be giving tickets to theme camps, and the ones that didn't clean their MOOP will be lower on the list. Great idea!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2012 @ 5:23 pm

Scalping is just a symptom. The core problem is a lot more than 53,000 people want to go. Expanding it to 70,000 and then 90,000 will ruin it. That's why it needs to divide.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 08, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

The theme this year is Fertility 2.0.

After reading all the stupid and wise comments here, I think it's clear burning man itself needs to procreate.

I hope an independent, competitive event is born out of this. Scale is not agreeable to this whole concept after a certain point.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 08, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

This is so simple just print the name on the Ticket and you have to show up with a photo ID. Done,
I also like the indian res idea I think they would like the cash and can sell lots of NDN tacos

Posted by T rip on Feb. 08, 2012 @ 9:22 am

I did receive a ticket in the presale, but my partner, who waited for the mainsail did not get one. Having only gone one year, and having become completely hooked on my first shot, I am sad to discover that my drug of choice has been hijacked, and rather like with the pusher hanging around the schoolyard, I am discovering that I may now be asked to pay more than I would enjoy for my high.

But BM is not a drug, there is an infinite amount of the spirit around, and the comments I like reading are the ones that say something like : "lets build another event somewhere else, and build the spirit." I'm all for more similar events, that one has reached a natural saturation point with the space available, the exit lineup out of there last year was nine hours, and I hear that there were accidents in the lineup that were really messy. I'm contemplating at this point reselling my one ticket, at the price I paid, and putting my energy into alternatives. Thanks, BM org. for giving me one week of paradise in my life, and reminding me that people and life and love and good fun are all there, just waiting for me to find it. I am betting that next year there will be a saner system (names on tickets?) because you folks seem to want the same thing I do.

In the meantime I'm looking at becoming deeper into the spirit at regional events, looking at alternative events, and looking to enjoy and share the spirit at any opportunity. I have been looking at nudist resorts, hot springs, growth groups, and anywhere else I can think that spirit may be hiding. Thanks, BM .org, for reminding me that I was seeing you as an addict sees a drug, and thanks for not letting me become too addicted.

Please, folks, invite me to any event with the good spirit, and lets spread the principles.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

i got two tickets and plan to scalp one. i don't think this is morally wrong because we live in a capitalist society. i'm not a socialist or a communist. if i can pay for my trip to BM because i was lucky enough to get an extra ticket, i think that's fine. it's like being lucky enough to be born white. one should take advantage of such things.

Posted by trex on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 8:50 am

Lol. I've never heard a white person openly admit it before. Most are sort of blind to it. You made me stop and check myself for a sec. Lol. kudos to you for at least realizing it.


Posted by Guest on Apr. 19, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

trex, how much for the ticket?

Posted by benedikt on Mar. 24, 2012 @ 5:18 am

OH, so you're white, & you consider that lucky?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2012 @ 9:16 am

^You really need to be able to tell when people are trolling.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

You should not go to BM at all, you obviously dont understand what the community is all about. You are one of the reasons BM may fail this year. Be a part of the solution if you want to have a good BM experience. Sell your ticket at face value like a good burner would. You sound like an idiot oh and a racist to boot. Stay HOME SELL BOTH TICKETS!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 9:18 am

So true !!!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 10:11 am

A "good burner" would give their ticket away, gift economy and all, right?

Posted by marcos on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

What I don't understand is why they don't use the simplest method possible to thwart scalpers. You have to submit a photo for each person getting a ticket. This photo gets printed on the ticket and validated at entrance.

In the case someone needs to sell his ticket they can go through the official BM process and have BM reissue the ticket with new photo.

I've heard this is what they do in Glastonbury in the UK.

Posted by Adam Burner on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 4:07 am

What happenned at Glastonbury was they brought in a lotto system, lots of people without tickets, new commercial crowd who wanted to be entertained rather than entertain got in, spirit of Glastonbury died. The entertainers went elsewhere and the coca cola kids lapped it up. Same seems to be happenning to BM ! The new BM ticket system didn`t take into account either people from outside USA getting ticks.
Pity really enjoyed all my times at BM, but heading for the ultimate burn this year, the eclipse, natural, free and loads of entertainers. Save your money and get phenomena natural!

Posted by GuestStephens on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 2:16 am

They're working on it folks. After the hype of the sellout last year, I got my ticket very last minute last year for just above face value. What goes up must come down.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

When you sink 20k into your art, and half your crew doesn't have tickets, it impacts your camp, your exhibition, everything. Last year, some performers didn't get tickets. Not everyone throws a rucksack into the back of a van and just shows up - some of us work all year and up to the last minute to present our art. If there is any doubt we won't get tickets, we won't present - it's too much of an investment to leave it to uncertainty.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 5:42 am

If your 'art' is a ridiculously large speaker array and the 'performers' are overhyped djs, please leave them at home, we already have too many.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 10:48 am

Phew! Someone had to say it.

I dare to add there's been way too many djs with speaker array size anxiety masquerading as 'artists' for years.

Posted by old burner on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

Phew! Someone had to say it.

I dare to add there's been way too many djs with speaker array size anxiety masquerading as 'artists' for years.

Posted by old. on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

Festival's get popular, not to much you can do about that. If you know its a draw for tickets, I dont really understand what you are all upset about.

luck of the draw.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

A small child could understand why people are complaining because they've been very specific in their complaints. Do you have reading comprehension issues?

Posted by Amii on Feb. 08, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

Have you ever just been to the burn?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

No problem! Burning Man w/o theme camps..how ZEN! Let the scalpers HAVE their tickets!
It may be a very intimate B'man this year, very dusty with no rain so far, a bunch of people who relied on the group effort to enjoy themselves... a good year to go to the beach with my model art work that didn't get a ticket instead...

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

Robot trading has pretty much taken over. Free markets are now dominated by robots trading stuff (especially stocks and currency futures, ie derivatives) built by algorithms written by the nation's smartest, scalpers aside. Those same programmers could be doing something useful to solve just a few problems. However, the bottom line ($) appears to be the main thing that matters these days.

That's why Burning Man espoused the gifting economy. And it's why going is still so refreshing, scalpers or no. People and art are a better currency than dollar bills.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 10:26 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 14, 2012 @ 2:44 pm

Never been to Burning Man before; sounds like "the old timers" don't like the idea of new people getting expensive tickets and coming to the party. What if the people who get tickets off ebay have sweet art installation ideas too? what about letting what happens happen and party in a new kind of way? When you rely on a business (a money making oppurtunity) to provide you a good time, chances are, money will get in the way at some point. There are a lot of other parties that would love inspired artists to join:)

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2012 @ 10:16 am

Clearly you've never been to Burning Man and have no clue what you're talking about.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

here I come - walk to baker beach- Muni home- maybe the stay homes will liven up SF Labor Day weekend- it would be good to have BM back in SF

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2012 @ 10:16 am

this was an intentional move by the borg to make the even more geared to the spectator. with fewer theme camps and art cars, people's attention will be directed to the marvels that the borg has created with the chosen few real artists, produced by the slave labor of DPW and other assorted gutter rats.

theme camps and art cars create more of problem for the borg than they solve. they require too much attention regarding placement and selection, and the art cars are hazardous.

it's actually funny that people are shocked by this.

BTW - i got my ticket, but i'm going to destroy it in a video to be posted on youtube.

Posted by trex on Feb. 05, 2012 @ 6:25 am

I heard the same rumor, allegedly originated from someone within the cloistered ranks. If it's true, the way they pulled the rug out from under theme camps is brilliant. Fosters bitterness and distrustfulness, though usually one tries to promote the opposite.

But I think their response has been nervous enough that I'd guess the rumor either isn't true, or they didn't anticipate the degree of ire turned their way. While this is most burdensome to theme camps, I've heard plenty of bitching from individual attendees.

Posted by Amii on Feb. 08, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

I want to see that video!

Posted by Ashad DeSharif on Feb. 08, 2012 @ 8:07 am

Destroy it!? I'd rather you sell it to me... One of the people who didn't get a ticket.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 7:59 am

so, the scalpers are not ALL of the problem, but they are part of the problem. If you recall airline tickets used to be completely transferrable and we would sell them to any bidder -- since then they have become not transferrable.

Should do the same with BM tickets -- buy them with a name assigned and that's it. No transferring! eliminates the scalpers which are a part of the problem.


Posted by Robert on Feb. 04, 2012 @ 11:24 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 04, 2012 @ 10:02 pm

You could stay at home for a week, not shower, invite some lowlife losers over and piss in your own mouth to get the same experience. And its free!!!

P.S. I "won" 2 tickets in the lottery. They are up for sale on ebay if anyone is interested...for a small markup.

Posted by Leroy Washington on Feb. 04, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

please could some 1 help me as i need 2 tickets for BM ..

i saw allot of posts around here where ppl were selling .

any i has tickets for sale contact me ---

my email is samsiddley@hotmail.com.

Posted by Guest - sam on Apr. 01, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

You've obviously never been.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2012 @ 6:28 am

Hope you sellyour tickets! And hope you get all the piss in your mouth and drown in it!!!!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2012 @ 11:12 am


Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2012 @ 12:43 pm

So what your saying is that you're a scalper. Wow... So many people who do not feel that this event is kin to hanging with "lowlife losers" and "pissing in our own mouths" can not go because of people like you.

I feel bad for you because I can not imagine the hateful world you live in.

Sell your tickets back to BMorg and do something good in your life.

Posted by Kiki on Feb. 05, 2012 @ 11:04 am

why did you buy tickets if you're so negative about it?

Posted by Guestresponse on Feb. 04, 2012 @ 10:09 pm

why did you buy tickets?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 04, 2012 @ 10:05 pm