Burning Man winners: theme camps, and maybe ticket scalpers

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ChiaLynn/Creative Commons

Burning Man organizers faced at least two serious problems created by its flawed new ticketing system, and they chose to deal with just one of them yesterday in announcing that the open sale of the final 10,000 tickets would be canceled and those tickets would instead be sold through the theme camps, art collectives, and volunteer groups that make Black Rock City what it is.

But Black Rock City LLC has decided not to address – at least not yet – its other major problem, which was scalpers and ticket agencies gaming the new ticket lottery to snap up tickets and sell them for huge profits. I and many others have long suggested the LLC register tickets to individual buyers and regulate their exchange to prevent gouging, and after announcing the new system last night, the company got such fierce criticism from online commenters arguing that point that it felt compelled to amend the post a few hours later to address the issue.

“If we don't fill the holes in the social fabric, who cares about the scalpers, because then we've got nothing,” Marian Goodell, the LLC board member who authored last night's announcement, told me this morning, explaining the emphasis on theme camps.

Without ensuring the city's art, entertainment, and infrastructure gets build, Burning Man could suffer a fatal blow to its reputation, she said, making the theme camp decision a tough but necessary one. But creating what she called “identity-based tickets” is a far more complicated issue, and she just doesn't think the scalper problem is as big as many burners believe.

But she doesn't know for sure. “Nobody knows, it's all speculation,” Goodell said, and that's part of the problem. All they really know is demand for tickets this year far exceeded anyone's expectations – Goodell will only confirm that there were 80,000-120,000 requests for the 40,000 ticket allocated on Feb. 1 – and that tickets often sold for double face value last year after the event sold out a month early for the first time in its 25-year history.

“Is it 100 people or 1,000 people that are going to take advantage of the community, and can we just discourage that?” Goodell said of the number of multiple-ticket-buying profiteers, reiterating her hopes that burners will starve out the scalpers by refusing to pay more than face value for tickets, which is part of the culture's ethos.

And if it's just 100, or even 1,000, she said it might not be worth it for the LLC to require the 40,000 people whose tickets will be mailed in June to register by name and to try to bar entry to those whose tickets don't match their names, particularly given the chance for human error and the remoteness of this temporary city. “How do you punish them? What do you do?” she said, noting that the LLC has delayed the decision on registration while it gathers more information.

But what if the profiteers have managed to wrangle 10,000 tickets? Some bloggers out there have demonstrated how easy it is to generate multiple credit card numbers and argued that scalpers must have done so, despite the LLC claims to have ferreted out the obvious scalper scams before tickets were awarded. “There's no way it's 10,000,” Goodell said confidently, although she was also confident that this system would work well, and then that there would be enough extra tickets circulating in the community to satisfy most of the demand, which so far doesn't seem to be true, with most theme caps reporting that less than a one-third of their members have scored tickets, far less in some cases.

Goodell and the LLC are counting on the STEP ticket exchange system whose registration launches on Feb. 29, but the details of that also generated controversy last night and forced Goodell to say it may still tweak the system. It allows people to sell back their unwanted tickets, with the LLC covering the normal $12 restocking fee. They will then be resold to people who register on a first come, first served basis, but they've decided to limit purchases to one per person and only to people who registered and were denied tickets on Feb. 1. Couples were irked that it punishes people who tried to buy two tickets at the main sale using only a single entry, so Goodell said they'll take another look.

“We are trying to make the STEP system be fluid, so if there's only a limited number of tickets available then more people can get them,” Goodell said. “We want STEP to work.”

But many burners just don't think it will. Burning Man tickets have suddenly become a hotter commodity than ever, and even community-minded burners who aren't seeking to make a profit will probably prefer to sell any extra tickets to someone directly, or to hang onto them for awhile, rather than give them up now to some random people who will then be forced to wait at the gate in the long will-call line, which is a new anti-scalping precaution that Goodell announced.

And then there's the major thrust of yesterday's announcement: distributing tickets through theme camps. I and most of the online commenters generally support that decision – at least as the best of a bad set of options – even though it's certainly a controversial one that values one type of citizen over another and seems to fly in the face of the event's principle of “radical inclusion.”

Yet it seems to be one that creates some difficult decisions ahead for the LLC. The criteria they laid out say the decisions will be made based on a camp's history (both its longevity and record of leaving no traces of litter, which the LLC monitors in a very detailed way), what it offers to the city each year, and its adherence to the event's 10 Principles.

Goodell confirmed my observation of how subjective that judgment will be – something that has spurred criticism that camps cozy with the LLC will get favorable treatment – but she said the large team of volunteers that work with theme camps and volunteer crews each year have already made many of those judgments and determined who will get tickets.

“We already did the math,” she told me. “Just because you're a theme camp on the map doesn't entitle you to x-number of tickets.”

While there may be about 700 registered theme camps in recent years, Goodell said the LLC is focused on getting tickets to camps that are truly interactive or offer entertainment, transportation, art, or volunteers to key functions such as the Lamplighters or Gate crew. “And we know who they are,” she said.

For everyone else, there are still a couple more chances to get tickets, beyond just the open market. There will be 4,000 low-income tickets (just $160) offered through a process that will likely be more competitive than ever, with registration beginning Feb. 29. And then there are the major art projects that receive grant funding and free tickets for crew members from the LLC, with the announcements of winners expected next month.

So now, burners and outside observers will just have to wait and see – first how the LLC's solutions work, then this summer to see how the scalpers' really did – as Burning Man muddles through what is proving to be a pivotal year.

Comments

"Without ensuring the city's art, entertainment, and infrastructure gets build, Burning Man could suffer a fatal blow to its reputation, she said, making the theme camp decision a tough but necessary one."
Which reputation are you most concerned about? The worldwide reputation that this is a "fun and safe" place to go and play? or the reputation (among burners) that this is an organic social experiment, created by participants, without spectators? I know it is a minority opinion, but I don't agree with the new policy. I happen to know a lot of Rangers, medical volunteers, and G&P who earned their tickets by working hard the year before, and they will work hard again this year. I suspect (but do not know) that the infrastructure being preserved by this act is largely the entertainment. Let the lucky ones bring the entertainment. Let the theme camps recruit the supposed 30,000 newcomers who got tickets. That seems an appropriate welcome.
“If we don't fill the holes in the social fabric, who cares about the scalpers, because then we've got nothing,” If you've got nothing, the scalpers will stop caring about this event.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

"seems to fly in the face of the event's principle of “radical inclusion.
100% fucking ay right. This distribution of 10,000 tickets to insiders and those cozy with the org is a compete sell-out of the principle of radical inclusion.

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Posted by http://analtorture.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d= on Feb. 06, 2013 @ 8:55 pm

But what if the profiteers have managed to wrangle 10,000 tickets?

Dude, are you kidding me? Obviously profiteers got at least 60% of the tickets.

Posted by Guest mamiel on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

I ran a survey of about 5000 submission on the ticket distribution. I really don't believe more than 5% went to scalpers. Next year their will be some sort of system that requires name association when purchasing ticket... Just no one specter this scenario.... And there's no evidence that scalpers sucked up many tickets. Show me any evidence and I'd be surprised. From what I've seen, it looks like demeaned is just up.

This article is terribly written and completely sensationalist. The author has taken quotes way out of context. Knowing the sensitivity of how Marion would have spoken about this, it's fairly irksome to seem a dramatic writer try and make it into something dramatic like this.

Everyone in the bm community was pissed prior to this announcement. Seems like most agree with this decision from the org.

Posted by Rich on Feb. 17, 2012 @ 4:34 am

probably not too many professional scalpers. rather burners buying several tickets under different IDs and CCs just to assure they got at least 1 or 2 tickets. i don't think they're going to readily admit this. i also don't think they're going to let go of those extra tickets at face value when they know they can sell them to yuppies and hipsters for $1k or more. it's just the nature of the beast.

people don't want to think burners would do this, but being a 'burner' doesn't mean what it used to. these so-called principles go out the door quickly when you're looking at $5k in your pocket because you got a bit lucky in the lottery.

Posted by toonly on Feb. 17, 2012 @ 6:34 am

I quoted Marian accurately and in context, as I've been doing in my articles for many years now, Rich. If she sounds a little different in this article than you're used to, maybe you should try asking her some tough questions sometime. As for your survey and your certainty, I'll let Marian answer: "Nobody knows, it's all speculation."

Posted by steven on Feb. 17, 2012 @ 8:50 am

anyone who has a lot of experience with BM related events knows that the organizers of almost all of these events try to hold back tickets. this is so they can hook up their friends, and also make people jump through hoops to get them.

it's a power trip and one of the perks for being an organizer.

i worked on the london decompression and they did just this. they opened up ticket sales a day before they went public, and everyone on the inner-circle list was able to buy up as many as they could. it sold out almost before it sales opened. and the very next day, people were dangling extra tickets in people's faces asking them what they were willing to do for a ticket.

this is the true face of the community. the happy hippy anarchy days are long past. it is now cut-throat social ladder climbing.

Posted by space-puppy on Feb. 17, 2012 @ 3:51 am

Space-puppy

When you have an event where everyone who helps put it on has to buy a ticket, you have to ensure that those who have volunteered are able to get in, otherwise you will no longer have an event. The only alternative is to let everyone who works on the event for free and I'm guessing that you wouldn't like that either.

In the case of London Decompression. Their was one year where we where very tight on numbers where we gave volunteers 24 hour window before main availability. This is nothing to do with an inner circle or a power trip, it's about making sure that those people who have stood up and volunteered to make the event happen get in, otherwise you don't have an event.

Their where very few secondary sales of London Decom tickets and I'm not aware of any scalping of tickets at the event. These days we've more than doubled the numbers, so their are lot less problems with ticket shortages.

I have yet to find a fair way to deal with limited tickets at an event that depends on a percentage of ticket holders to help create the event. If you have any better ideas then I would love to hear them.

Posted by David J. Bradshaw on Mar. 01, 2012 @ 11:34 am

I should also add that pre-sale tickets where limited to two per volunteer. Their was no hoarding.

Posted by David J. Bradshaw on Mar. 01, 2012 @ 11:36 am

i worked on the 07 london decompression, and hoarding happened. tickets were scooped up by the volunteers and then, like i said, dangled to the community on various lists and forums. IMO, this is a form of scalping. they weren't selling them for more than face value, but they were requiring would-be buyers to justify why they were worthy. some people required an essay along with their request to buy. the other requests to prove a buyers worthiness was typical of a clique gone wrong. many of the volunteers hadn't even been to a single burn, yet they were spouting their more-burnier-than-thou attitudes out of their asses.

Posted by space-puppy on Mar. 02, 2012 @ 6:52 am

when you have 40% virgins and about 40% 2nd & 3rd year ticket holders, you have 80% of the population that is mostly not clued into any real sense of participation.

that's what the 10k ticket hold-back is for. those people will be the true participants, building and performing and caring for the 80%. i'm sure everyone will have a great time.

but it does have to be made safer for the 80% - the school teachers on spirt quests, etc. as long as they have things to wait in line for most of the day, they should be fine. fewer art cars would make them safer. fewer private installations that can be dangerous will make them safer. all in all - the event will be a showcase for what the 10k real burners can muster up.

Posted by janet on Feb. 17, 2012 @ 4:07 am

Let's not kid ourselves. These 10,000 tickets are going to be concentrated in the hands of those with the best relationships with the org. Just as some other commenters have already said. They will make sure their friends are taken care of. They always do. The other thousand or so non-registerd theme camps that have been going for years but haven't slept with anyone in the Placement Team are basically screwed.

Its a terrible and unnecessary decision. I'd rather have a crappy year than sell out on one of the primary principles of the event. It is officially becoming a members-only country club for those with the best connections...

Posted by Guest on Feb. 17, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

In reply to Janet, "fewer art cars would make them safer. fewer private installations that can be dangerous will make them safer." Since when was burning man about being safe??!! Fire is the best component of burning man, although I doubt it is there as much as it used to be (I haven't been in 9 years). The playa itself is extremely dangerous, hot and dry. And, there is no discussion of this, but attendees should be more worried about theives and rapists than art and art cars!

Posted by mountain scientist on Feb. 22, 2012 @ 11:39 am

"YOU VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISK OF SERIOUS INJURY OR EVEN DEATH BY ATTENDING THIS EVENT" - Disclaimer on the back of each Burning Man Ticket

I will rate the rate of thieves and rapists as less per capita than most real cities.

And last year 23 effigies from across the continent + Ireland burned simultaneously on Thursday night. Did that happen 9 years ago?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2012 @ 8:05 pm

In general I sympathize with the BM staff. I don't agree with every decision they've made, but I feel like they were acting in good faith. Unfortunately, the article glosses over the betrayal many people feel who played by the rules:

"Couples were irked that it punishes people who tried to buy two tickets at the main sale using only a single entry, so Goodell said they'll take another look."

Couples are more than irked. When the lottery was announced, BM pleaded with the community to only buy the tickets they needed. For a couple wanting tickets, they asked that only one person register for two tickets. It was "do the right thing", "for the good of the community". etc.
Now, it turns out that very people who listened to their pleas and only registered once for two tickets will have ZERO chance of getting two tickets through the STEP program. People who ignored BM's pleas and attempted to game the system by having each person apply for two tickets still have a chance of getting two tickets. That the BM staff would announce a policy that specifically punishes people who tried to play by the rules, that really hurts.

Posted by Too bad about couples on Feb. 17, 2012 @ 9:57 pm

who's going to have to fuck his way to BRC in August. Good thing I've got the equipment to make it happen.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 17, 2012 @ 10:49 pm

If scalpers don't have thousands of tickets, where did they all go? It's pretty well established that veterans got 25% to 33% of the tickets they asked for, and the Bmorg has told us that of those ticket buyers who self-identified, 40% self-identified as newbies. Those are the two kinds of attendees that there are, Veterans and Newbies, so if you assume that one of three bids was successful, then more than half the tickets available remain unaccounted for.

They're quite likely in the hands of professional scalpers, real Burners looking to defray costs, and fence-sitters, who might or might not attend.

For more fun with ticket math: www.blackrockbeacon.org/article2-12.htm

Posted by Mitch on Feb. 21, 2012 @ 11:40 am

In reply to Janet who said, "fewer art cars would make them safer. fewer private installations that can be dangerous will make them safer."
Since when was burning man about being safe??!! Fire is the best component of burning man, although I doubt it is there as much as it used to be (I haven't been in 9 years). The playa itself is extremely dangerous, hot and dry. And, there is no discussion of this, but attendees should be more worried about theives and rapists than art and art cars!

Posted by mountain scientist on Feb. 22, 2012 @ 11:40 am

attendees really should be mostly worried about false accusations of rape, assault and dosing. basically, the most hazardous thing at BM are the attendees who view single males as predators and actually post signs saying they are not allowed into many parties.

if you're a solo male camper, and some sparkle pony in the next camp thinks she was dosed because her tummy is upset - all eyes will turn on you. expect to be interrogated by white knights, rangers and LEOs.

Posted by cuddles on Feb. 23, 2012 @ 5:48 am

Hmm, a guy named "cuddles" complaining about rape accusations and events barring single males (which pretty much only applies to sex parties, which is also the case here in SF, where most sex parties only allow couples and single women) -- um, I hope everyone gets the idea that this scenario he describes is totally unfamiliar to most single men on the playa. As with most cities, people can still desire privacy, women are allowed to complain about pervy guys, and hopefully the rangers and other authorities take those complaints seriously enough to ask a few questions. My advice, cuddles, just be cool, try to empathize with others, show respect for women, and perhaps choose a new playa name.

Posted by steven on Feb. 23, 2012 @ 11:37 am

Respect for women is a good start. And yes, rape and other sexual assault has happened/does happen at Burning Man. People should be aware of the danger. I am a woman, and I was always aware and with close friends from the real world. I also camped in a good village where I knew my neighbors.

Posted by mountain scientist on Feb. 23, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

I hope that men try to respect the rights of women, and understand that at Burning Man as elsewhere in the world, there is NOT an open invitation to touch her or harm her. I should clarify that while Burning Man is a dangerous place, due to the elements, as well fire and cars... I should emphasize that rape SHOULDN'T be happening at Burning Man or anywhere. But unfortunately, this does occur at Burning Man as it does everywhere everywhere.
When I say Burning Man isn't about safety, I should hope that people understand that I'm talking about fire and cars and the elements. Rape and sexual assault is a human rights issue. I applaud the efforts of the Rangers and others that work to help women on the playa. I also urge women attendees to try to be as safe as possible, since you are in the middle of nowhere with drunken idiots, some of whom are criminals.

Posted by mountain scientist on Feb. 23, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

it's the men who should be concerned about the women. every third woman out there is tripping on some kind of drug or drunk or both. if a man finds himself alone with one of these women, she can make any accusation she wants about him, and he will be arrested. she could have even hallucinated that he touched her, and that's jail time for the man.

Posted by cuddles on Feb. 24, 2012 @ 3:11 am

"Respect for women is a good start."

as a group, women are not entitled to respect. respect is earned individually.

Posted by cuddles on Feb. 24, 2012 @ 3:07 am

"I hope everyone gets the idea that this scenario he describes is totally unfamiliar to most single men on the playa"

yes, and steven has also interviewed most single men on the playa.

rape paranoia on the playa is so thick that it is pervasive. almost every women out there is freaked out that the next drink someone offers her is dosed and that every single man would drag her off to rape her if he only had the chance.

"women are allowed to complain about pervy guys"

women are allowed to complain about everything on the playa. why would pervy guys be any different.

"show respect for women"

you really have no idea what the term 'respect' means, if you did you would know that respect earned individually, not distributed in bulk to half the population because they were born with vaginas. the notion that all women are respectable is conditioning by society in an effort to get men to believe that women can do no wrong - that masculinity is evil and femininity is everything pure and good in the world.

Posted by cuddles on Feb. 24, 2012 @ 3:23 am

In reply to Janet, "fewer art cars would make them safer. fewer private installations that can be dangerous will make them safer." Since when was burning man about being safe??!! Fire is the best component of burning man, although I doubt it is there as much as it used to be (I haven't been in 9 years). The playa itself is extremely dangerous, hot and dry. And, there is no discussion of this, but attendees should be more worried about theives and rapists than art and art cars!

Posted by mountain scientist on Feb. 22, 2012 @ 11:50 am

If people are concerned about safety, they shouldn't be going to burning man. You will be in a harsh environment in the middle of nowhere (~80ish miles from a hospital), and need to bring all your water, supplies, etc.
This is for self-reliant people, not for people scared of fire art or art cars. If that is you, stay home.

Posted by mountain scientist on Feb. 22, 2012 @ 11:53 am

since you haven't been in 9 years, you really don't know what you're talking about. BM today is not the same event as 9 years ago. now it's about safety for the newbies. the BMorg's target market is new blood, with an estimated 80% of tickets already sold going to 1st, 2nd and 3rd year attendees. it is very important to the BMorg that these people do not run into anything more hazardous than a dust storm.

Posted by janet on Feb. 23, 2012 @ 5:52 am

I've been going for the last nine years and doing extensive interviews with event organizers and key participants during that time, and I'm not sure why you conclude that safety has become so important. That massive steep slide a few years ago caused dozens of injuries and yet it wasn't shut down, same thing with the crazy jungle gym in 2010. It says right on the ticket that attendees risk death or serious injury, and that's still a point of pride among longtime burners and our "safety third" mantra. While burners are generally safe, particularly in engineering large artworks to prevent collapse or explosion, there's a reason that "safety" is one of the 10 principles: We still like a bit of danger.

Posted by steven on Feb. 23, 2012 @ 11:29 am

"safety third" is a tired, outdated meme that was funny the first time someone said it. it may have applied to the event at one time, but not any more. safety is paramount because the demographic of the event has changed. most of the people out there have only been out a couple times and barely know how to work a screw driver. if safety wasn't first, these people would suffer many more serious injuries, and would cease being poster-children for the event when they get back home to their jobs as school teachers and accountant managers.

you should try to make your points without dropping how you know the event organizers, etc. you're the person LEAST likely to get the real story from these people, so it doesn't help.

the 'injuries' caused by the slide were badges of honor to most of the people i met with them. getting a playa scar is on most people's BM list - like riding an art car or drinking a beer with larry.

everyone risks death or serious injury every day of their lives. crossing the street in any city is more potentially dangerous that anything BM dishes out these days. but 'safety third' if it makes you feel like mad max.

Posted by cuddles on Feb. 24, 2012 @ 3:54 am

In response to Janet, "it is very important to the BMorg that these people do not run into anything more hazardous than a dust storm."
Then what is the point of going to BMan? The whole reason it was set up out there is that it is a raw, sublime wasteland that can kill you entirely from the elements. The whole reason to go out to the middle of nowhere is to have freedom, to express and be. If you want BMan Lite, why not just set it up in a CA suburb. Cuz its an oxymoron to keep having it in a remote desert if you want a supper controlled, super safe, super MAINSTREAM event.

Posted by mountain scientist on Feb. 23, 2012 @ 12:24 pm

"Then what is the point of going to BMan?"

it's a party in the desert. it's always been a party in the desert.

but the reason BM is there now is not the same reason it went out originally. originally it was set up as a temporary autonomous zone for anarchists. the cacophony society (you may already be a member) brought larry out to the playa to burn his man when the baker beach burn got shut down. the cacophonists had been going out the playa for years before the first playa burn. the cacophonists held anarchist ideals and couldn't fully express themselves in regular authoritarian society - but on the playa they could express themselves almost without restriction.

larry & friends existed in harmony with the cacophony society on the playa for years, and for a long time it was impossible to tell them apart. but in 1996 the separation was made, and larry & friends wrestled for control of the event and turned it into a business. the cacophonists, being anarchists, were not ones to fight for authoritarian control of anything, and were easily kicked aside. ultimately, as you see today, they're all but extinct at BM.

for the most part, what you see now at BM is a reflection (or a wrapper) of what the cacophony society created. people now attend the event to play like anarchists under the protective eyes of a variety of authoritarian leaders. BM is a product, and that product is a freedom fantasy that is sold in a week-long holiday package. and at the end of the week, customers go back to their normal lives and wait for next year when they can again play like anarchists, without having to hold any real anarchist ideals.

Posted by cuddles on Feb. 24, 2012 @ 4:46 am

Obviously that is meant to be "super controlled", not supper controlled. Although the control is probably going to that extreme as well.

Posted by mountain scientist on Feb. 23, 2012 @ 12:25 pm