Burning Man takes anti-scalper and traffic control measures as tickets arrive

Got yours?
Steven T. Jones

Most physical tickets to Burning Man were mailed out last week and, as many expected after a controversial ticket lottery with higher-than-expected demand, ticket scalpers were offering hundreds of tickets for more than double face value on websites such as eBay and StubHub. But Black Rock City LLC, the SF-based company that stages the event, over the weekend introduced some counter-measures to combat the scalpers and reiterated its request for burners to heed the culture's decommodification ethos and refuse to pay more than face value for tickets.

“I don't think any burner should buy a ticket for above face value,” Marian Goodell, the BRC board member who handles communications, told the Guardian. She said they've worked through the crisis of veteran burners – those who build much of Black Rock City's infrastructure each year – not getting tickets.

“It's sorting itself out, so I don't think people need to go to the StubHubs out there. They can ignore the scalpers,” she said.

BRC already canceled a secondary open sale of what was to be the final 10,000 tickets, instead selling them through established theme camps and art collectives, fairly effectively getting them out to most burners who wanted them. Then, in the wake of getting federal permits for a higher than expected population cap of 60,900 this year, BRC on Sunday announced the release of an extra 2,000 tickets this year.

Half of those were dumped into the Secure Ticket Exchange Program (STEP) system that BRC created for people who unsuccessfully sought tickets during the main sale of 40,000 tickets in January. To further deter scalpers, those who hadn't registered for that main sale – who are barred from buying through STEP – can try to snag one of the 1,000 tickets that BRC will offer during an online sale on Aug. 3, which requires registration on Aug. 1.

“We think the 1,000 tickets we put into the open sale will help pull the rug out from under the scalpers,” event founder Larry Harvey, who chairs the board, told us.

Harvey and Goodell also say BRC has been hard at work solving related issues as well, including concerns that the biggest ever population for this massive, isolated, temporary city in Nevada's Black Rock Desert – where waits to get on or off the playa during peak hours can be four hours or longer – will create traffic nightmares.

“More lanes will be open more often,” Goodell said, explaining they will beef up the number of volunteers helping to get people in and out, as well as those working the lines at Will Call, which all the STEP ticket buyers were forced to use as another anti-scalper measure.

The event traditionally opens at midnight on the Sunday night before Labor Day weekend (Aug. 26 this year), but those in the know have known it was actually possible to get in a few hours early during the last couple years. This year, BRC will formalize that arrangement to help with traffic ingress, officially opening the gates to all attendees at 6pm.

Goodell said BRC will also be coordinating with big art projects and doing communications efforts with all attendees encouraging people to stagger entrance and departure times as much as possible to spread out the peak and lessen wait times. “We really want participants to educate themselves and think about their expectations,” she said.

As an additional measure, BRC will be moving up the final official event of the week – the burning of the Temple on the last Sunday night (Sept. 2) – from 9 pm to dusk to facilitate more people hitting the road that night.

Both Goodell and Harvey acknowledged that it's been difficult to sort through the problems created by the huge demand for tickets this year, but they say that most of those who want tickets will have them and this should be a banner year in terms of the art and other offerings in this strange and bountiful experimental city.

“There were fears there would be less art this year, but there's going to be more art than ever before,” Harvey said. Asked which piece he's most excited to see this year, he said Yoga Robot by Colorado artist Scott Harris. To peruse some of the other art installations this year, click here to see check out art projects that got grants from BRC, which is only a small part of what attendees will see on the playa this year.