After 2011’s first-ever sellout with about 54,000 attendees, officials thought they’d cut down on server crashes and increasingly long waits for online ticket purchases by using a lottery instead of a first-come, first-served system.
Instead, about 75 percent of core Burners, whose theme camps, art cars, massive installations and more make the temporary city come alive each year, are without tickets because of alleged scalpers, an over-abundance of newbies and others.
“Few could predict exactly how many new prospective attendees would register, though we had plenty of indication that public interest was greater than ever, especially since we sold out last year,” said Marian Goodell, Black Rock City board member. “The ticket selection system worked as planned but it created other unforeseen problems, most of them boiled down to an unpredicted, overwhelming level of demand.
“Such a turnover might be acceptable if this was a concert or a sports event. But you’re not just fans in a seat, all more or less the same. In a community based on a web of social relationships, these numbers are perilous.”
What makes the ticketing snafu more critical for Burning Man is the fact that Black Rock City wouldn’t exist each year without the year-round planning and labor of thousands of volunteers hauling the theme camps and art-related projects, many cross-country, to the playa at their own expense. With tickets scarce this early on, some core groups are said to be scrapping their plans to return to the August event.
In November and December, about 3,000 were offered up to four tickets by lottery for $420 each.
The recent main sale included 40,000 tickets sold at pricing tiers of $240, $320 and $390 each, with a two-ticket limit per person.
A secondary open sale planned for March 28 is to offer 10,000 tickets on a first-come, first-served basis at $390 each, with a four-ticket limit per person.
In the meantime, Burning Man will launch its secure ticket exchange program Feb. 29 so extra tickets can be bought and resold at face value in a safe, hassle-free manner.
Those who got rejection letters during the main sale will be notified when the next round of tickets will be available.
At press time, tickets in the $240 to $390 range were already showing up for sale on sites such as StubHub and Vivid Seats priced from $631 to $5,500 each.
The ticket mess also gave Burning Man reps a clearer picture as to what has to happen next.
“Two things are immutable. It is not possible to simply grow the event to welcome more people in 2012,” Goodell said. “Between traffic concerns and the limitations placed on attendance by the Bureau of Land Management, that’s off the table.
“Without our core collective community, the fabric of Burning Man could fray and tear apart. Regardless of all good original intentions, that ripping sound has to stop.”