Frustrations rise with skyrocketing prices for scalped Burning Man tickets

Burning Man tickets that cost $210-$360 have been selling for several times that amount.

In the wake of yesterday's announcement that Burning Man tickets have sold out for the first time, scalpers have been offering tickets online for several times their face values – some for as much as $5,000 each – frustrating burners and raising difficult questions about what the laws of supply and demand are doing to a community that eschews “commodification” as one of its core principles.

Members of Black Rock City LLC have been worried about this problem since back in January when tickets first started selling briskly. When I asked BRC board members Larry Harvey and Marian Goodell about the possibility of its selling out early, they each asked me not to publicize that possibility because they were worried about scalpers making runs on tickets.

A few months ago, they announced that tickets wouldn't be available at the gate, and they began to put out word through registered theme camps and occasional notices in the Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter that selling out was a possibility and that those planning to attend should buy their tickets now.

“I feel bad if anyone was caught unaware, but they should have known,” Goodell told me yesterday.

But if the high prices being asked for Burning Man tickets on sites like eBay and StubHub are any indication, it seems that those looking to profit off the event were just waiting for the announcement that tickets had sold out. High ticket prices are also likely to add incentive to the regular ticket scams that occur, resulting in the likelihood of people getting stuck outside the gate at this far-flung locale.

BRC spokesperson Will Chase addressed that possibility in a post on the Burning Blog yesterday: “For those considering venturing out to Black Rock City without a ticket to 'try your luck' purchasing one at or near the entrance to Burning Man, we ask that you do NOT do so, for your own safety and the well-being of the surrounding communities. The Black Rock Desert is an extremely remote, inhospitable environment with limited resources, minimal facilities, and few camping opportunities in the vicinity.”

Longtime burner Chicken John Rinaldi, who has turned into a staunch critic of the way BRC is governed in recent years, said burners who don't have much money will be tempted to sell their tickets if they really start going for thousands of dollars and he said BRC should have consulted the larger community about the issue.

“They don't have a plan. They knew it was going to sell out and they didn't have a plan,” said Rinaldi, who has also been critical of BRC's plans for converting to a nonprofit with little input from the community about process or potential new governance models. “It was another missed opportunity for Larry to engage with his community...This is going to be a fucking disaster.”

As for what steps BRC is taking to discourage price gouging by scalpers, whether they are beefing up security to better fight off gate-crashers, and responses to criticisms rippling through online discussions among burners about “gentrification” of the event and related concerns, we're still waiting for responses from BRC members who we expect to interview over the coming days.

So check back for updates on this blog and in next week's special Guardian issue on Burning Man, which celebrates its silver anniversary this year.


it's not the end of burning man by a long shot

Posted by Guest on Aug. 01, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

Everybody now knows that Burning Man tickets will continue to sell out in the future. The Bureau of Land Management's limitation on the number of participants will continue, while Burning Man will grow as a popular commodity.

Which means either of two things will happen in regard to future ticket sales:

(1) The promoters will continue the practice of selling tickets at a price far below their free-market value. As a result, a cottage industry of scalpers and ticket brokers will find ways to scoop up most of the tickets as soon as they go on sale. These will then be resold later at the much higher free-market value. The scalpers and brokers will make a huge profit.

(2) The promoters will raise the price of tickets to their free-market value. In other words, you can expect the price of tickets to be in the range of $1,000 to $1,500. The promoters will make a huge profit, instead of the scalpers and brokers.

In either case, Burning Man will become a high-priced entertainment commodity for people who are economically well off, especially the international jet set, who will promote a culture of Burning Man Chic.

Those who want Burning Man to be an experience of artistic creativity, free of the commodity mentality, will have to create other venues for themselves. They will have lost Burning Man itself.

Posted by Arthur Evans on Jul. 28, 2011 @ 7:19 am

arthur, you are spot on. this is coming from a nine time burner who saw the hog coming out of the tunnel in 2007, when there was a thinly disguised trade show exhibit under the man...

Posted by Guest on Aug. 01, 2011 @ 11:00 am

I would suggest a visit to the 'Burning Man' web site and at least a reading of the official Mission Statement. It ends with the words "We will always burn the Man".
It sounds like you have become The Man.
I make no judgement on the 'value' of the event, except to say that if you are trying to create a new paradigm; offer a radical alternative experience to those who want to participate, then you would be well advised not to emulate the policies and practices of the Old Order. Sadly you seem to doing so. The almighty dollar and insider power politics triumph again.
You have obviously fucked up royally, and many people could be placed in harm's way. I would suggest that the ethical, enlightened, radical, revolutionary way to resolve this betrayal of your principles would be to cancel this year's event, refund all valid tickets at face value, get together, get your shit together and try again next year.
Shit happens, mistakes are are made, but if we don't learn and grow from them....... . Many people's plans will be disrupted, tough, happens every day, just ask the thousands of folks who are laid off every week. Deal with it, learn from it, improvise and move on. Cultivate your survival skills, adapt, strive for freedom and independence, put not your faith in princes or promoters.
Those who orchestrated this cacophany have a duty to their community and should be held responsible for any negative occurences.
Just my 2c.

Posted by Pat Monk.RN. on Jul. 28, 2011 @ 8:37 am

Time to do away with the event, since it turned into a commercial thing.

Posted by Lisa on Jul. 28, 2011 @ 9:58 am

I see there's another Lisa posting here. Just to clarify, I didn't post the comment above.

Posted by Lisa Pelletier on Jul. 28, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

everyone knows to buy their tickets early, so too f'in bad your DJs can't get in. next time think ahead.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 30, 2011 @ 11:16 pm

Members of Black Rock City LLC have been worried about this problem since back in January when tickets first started selling briskly. When I asked BRC board members Larry Harvey and Marian Goodell about the possibility of its selling out early, they each asked me not to publicize that possibility because they were worried about scalpers making runs on tickets.

Posted by pembe maske on Aug. 31, 2011 @ 5:23 am