Burning Man… The Great Ticket Fiasco

Burning Man tickets have become scarce, Burners are upset, and scalpers are taking advantage.

Burning Man ran out of tickets last year. People panicked. Scalpers had a field day.

Let me say this about scalpers; they are the scum of the earth. Scalpers and other speculators of their ilk make their fortunes by driving prices up and taking advantage of people. They are driven by greed and contribute nothing to society.

Burning Man decided the fairest way to deal with the limited ticket issue this year was to run a lottery. To deal with the scalpers, controls were placed on the number of tickets anyone could buy. Scalpers undoubtedly figured out ways of getting around the controls. They always will if the profits are substantial. But that’s not the major issue.

Burning Man forgot the major maxim of good business practice: Don’t Screw Your Best Customers. This was not Burning Man’s intent, but it was the result.

Suddenly, Burners who had been faithfully buying tickets and attending the event for 5, 10, or even 15 years are ticketless. What’s worse is that many of these people are critical to the Burning Man experience. They are the contributors, people who share their musical and artistic talent, people who volunteer for the many tasks it takes to run Burning Man and people central to building and maintaining the communities that give Burning Man its unique flair.

What were you thinking guys?

To give credit to the Burning Man organization, it is now struggling with how to right the wrong. A less than satisfactory solution will be jury-rigged this year. The result will still be lots of seriously bummed, or should I say burned, Burners.

As a six-year-veteran here are my thoughts regarding a solution to Burning Man’s ticket sales.

  1. Do away with the tier system. It’s a form of scalping in itself. Figure out what a fair price is to run the event, make your ‘profit,’ and support the other causes/efforts you believe in. Charge everyone the same amount but retain your program for subsidized tickets for people who need them. You can encourage people to make donations to support valuable programs such as the Black Rock Arts Foundation and Burners without Borders.
  2. Limit sales to twice a year. The first sale will be for the total number of spaces available and be on a first-come first-serve basis. Make it in January so you have time to do your own planning. The total upfront cash should be good for Burning Man. It’s as fair as you can be in terms of distribution.
  3. Make the second sale one month before the event to sell refunded tickets from people who can’t go. (Closer to the event would be better but the logistics might be a nightmare.)
  4. To make this work and to eliminate scalpers, people will have to have numbered tickets tied to their name and a personal photo ID. That’s how participants will get in and that’s how they will obtain refunds if they can’t go. I know this will take extra effort on the part of Burning Man and that veterans may complain, but it is the only way to keep ticket control in Burning Man’s hands. An increased price is justified here to cover Burning Man’s refunding and processing costs. People will have to make a go/no go decision by a certain date. Otherwise they are out the price of their ticket.

This is a much simpler approach than Burning Man uses now. It is fair and will be easily understood by participants.