Suffice it to say that this year’s ticket fiasco far exceeded the previous years. Not only that, I actually think it managed to exceed some of our own pessimistic predictions. Let me first start out by saying how much Burning Man does to run and cultivate a successful event. I could not do it better. But unfortunately, their expertise does not extend to the realm of ticketing. And until the event sold out last year, that was never really of great importance (beyond incredibly poor servers). With that said, it’s time to find some fresh, new ways to tackle this problem.
What we need are solutions that go beyond conventional wisdom. If Burning Man truly is a unique event with a unique base of participants, then our ticketing system has to reflect that. We have to abandon old models and look for unconventional ways to get the tickets into the hands of the people that need them. Below is my suggestion, and whether or not Burning Man reads this or takes any of my advice, hopefully my thoughts will inspire those who will be heard.
Let’s begin by outlining exactly what the problem is with the ticketing system. While there will always be problems, the attempt here is to find the one’s most detrimental to the event and it’s inhabitants.
1. Scarcity- This is really the 800 pound gorilla in the room. And until the BLM decides to let more people in, or Burning Man finds a new location(s), there is no way to get around this problem.
2. Scalpers- While I’m sure the level of ticket scalping has been greatly over-exaggerated, the fear and panic that this notion instills in people is enough to drive many participants to over-compensate when registering for tickets. If we can come up with a solution that is at least 99% scalper-proof, I would deem that a massive success.
3. Virgins vs. Veterans- With scarcity becoming such a large factor, theme camps and artists have found themselves stranded without enough tickets. Certainly the hope remains that via STEP, excess tickets will find their way to all the camps, but what if there are simply many more virgins going? We can’t refuse people on the basis that they haven’t been before. This problem attacks the very core of the Burning Man principle “Radical Inclusion”.
4. Open Sale and The Lottery- As I said before, the ticketing system is broken. The open sale creates a mad-house-free-for-all which will undoubtedly crash the server and cause full-blown chaos. The Lottery, in it’s first year, has proven to be possibly the single most destructive event in Burning Man’s history. The system is broken. So let’s think of something else, something new!
5. Tiered Ticketing- Both a blessing and a curse, the system of tiered ticket prices has caused many grumblings among the event’s lower income participants. But the fact is that almost every burner will try to get the lowest tier possible, and will settle for the higher tiers if nothing else is available. Tiered ticketing simply rewards those lucky enough to either “win” the lottery or not have anything better to do during the open sale (such as having a job). Not only that, when those lower tier tickets are resold even by many well-meaning individuals, the prices often reflect only the highest tier ticket, turning burner against burner.
Granted the title above may suggest that this is “the” solution, but I’m sure there are quite a few holes in my idea, and it simply may not be feasible. But this is my rough draft concept, and Burning Man can take what they want from it.
Step 1: Putting Theme Camps and Art Projects First
This will make more sense as my proposal unfolds, but for now bear with me. We must require all Theme Camps and Art Projects to register early, starting at the beginning of the year. An open registration starting in January and continuing until February, so those interested have plenty of time to develop their ideas.
When registering, they must outline their camps concept and space requirements, as they always have, but they must also specify how many people are needed to run their camp. So if, say Kostume Kult deems it necessary to have a minimum of 85 participants to make their camp a reality, then they must submit that number along with everything else. Also those numbers must coincide logically with the amount of space requested by the camps.
We would highly encourage those camps to accurately assess the numbers, but also not to underestimate their need. Once they apply, the number cannot be increased.
Step 2: Re-Imagining Ticket Distribution
In order to combat the problems above, we must first create a system capable to ensuring the tickets find their way to those actually meaning to attend. Not only that, but those meaning to participate as well. As many of us know, Burning Man does not simply exist. It is a labor of love. And as this lottery debacle highlights, if those building Burning Man can’t make it, then there is no Burning Man. What we need is a ticketing system that rewards those who are committed to participating.
I believe that Burning Man should divide ticket sales into 2 categories: Theme Camp and Open Sale
Theme Camp: I propose a flexible ticketing system that allocates tickets based on the requirements of the events participants first. Which means theme camps and art projects will be given priority in terms of the ticketing process. But instead of then sending each camp those tickets, each camp would be given a profile page on Burning Man’s ticketing website.
Those wishing to purchase tickets from the Theme Camp category are investing themselves in the participatory aspect of Burning Man. Potential ticket buyers would find theme camps in their area and would then either schedule a time to meet with the leaders of the camp, or perhaps attend a theme camps social event. At this point it is up to the camp to properly allocate their finite supply of tickets. With each camp their would be one individual, the “camp leader” according the ticketing system who is both responsible and liable for the proper distribution of tickets to any qualified and willing individuals.
What does this mean for potential camp leaders? They must decide whether or not an individual is truly interested in attending Burning Man, not re-selling the tickets. After that they must ensure that each person understands their possible roles as a participating member of the theme camp. While the level of participation needed may vary, they are highly encouraged to make it possible for any willing individual to reasonably attend and participate.
On the flip side, they are also responsible for ensuring that they allocate their tickets based on a first come, first served basis, rather than bias via friendship. If an acceptable individual wishes to join the camp, they must be allowed that option without fearing prejudice for being a “virgin” burner or not knowing those involved prior. Basically, don’t be a dick. And if any camp leader is discovered to be favoring certain ticket buyers over others, he/she will be banned from being a camp leader in future.
For those individuals joining a theme camp, the theme camp leader would give them a code to put into the ticketing system. From the camp’s profile on the Burning Man website, a person would enter the code, purchase the ticket, and their name would be added to an online database of ticket holders which would be associated with the camp. I’ll get to why that is important later. And the good news here, all the ticket prices are the same.
Open Sale: This is exactly as it sounds. Once again, burning man resorts to an open sale format. But this time there are fewer tickets available because of the newly formed Theme Camp category. While this initially sounds terrible, the Open Sale category has the potential for shrinking every year as the Theme Camps grow, expand, and multiply. Basically, we would promote participation by cannibalizing open sale tickets.
Initially let’s say the sale is split 50/50. There are roughly 25,000 tickets available to Theme Camps/Art Projects, and 25,000 will be available via the open sale. As time goes on, if the Theme Camp section sells out, another 5% of the tickets will be transferred to that section the following year, every year. The maximum number allotted to Theme Camps would stop at 80%, leaving only 20% to Open Sale, but ensuring greater participation.
The key to making all this work is creating “semi-transferrable” tickets. Essentially people are allowed to sell their tickets to individuals, but they must do so through Burning Man or their Theme Camp. For Theme Camp tickets, the camp leader must approve of the transfer, and can change the camps online database of participants to accurately reflect the change. For Open Sale tickets, all tickets are associated with the name of the ticket-holder. In order to change this name, the individual must re-sell their ticket through the organization. Money should never change hands between the seller and buyer, but instead the buyer pays BM, and the seller receives a reimbursement for their initial cost (less a small fee). Hopefully this will deter scalpers to the point of extinction.
Foolproof Concept: In order to make this concept fool-proof (relatively) Burning Man must abandon physical tickets in lieu of the online database and photo-ID’s. More on that later.
Step 3: Re-defining Gate Entry and Ticket Check-Ins
The final step to making this whole process work is to create a seamless integration between the names associated with the tickets and the individuals checking in when arriving to Burning Man. This process can happen with or without physical tickets, but without would be a much cleaner solution.
All volunteers checking tickets at the gate will be equipped with a smart phone or something similar and hand-held. Those devices would communicate over the cloud with the database. People would enter and show their ID and possibly their physical ticket. The ticket-checker would then ask if they registered via Theme Camp or Open Camp. The volunteer would select within the “app” which category. Following that with Open Camp they would search for the name associated with the ID. With Theme Camp they would select the Camp the participant said they were camping with. The list of names for each camp would be shorter, and the volunteer will find the name.
Once found, the volunteer would “check-in” the participant. This would alter the database in real time to account for the individual having already entered. This would ensure that multiple entries via the same name/ID didn’t occur. The info gathered would allow Burning Man to accurately assess the number of Theme Camp participants that actually attended, and alter the following year’s ticket allocations accordingly.
The biggest issue here is obtaining ID’s for children. This can be overcome by selecting “minor” when registering tickets on the website, and sending all minors a physical ticket.
Did I Cover Everything?
1. Scarcity: All we can hope for here is that the people going are participating. Hopefully this system helps ensure that.
2. Scalpers: The “semi-transferrable” ticketing process and Theme Camp category will keep many scalpers out of the system. It may not be perfect, but it’s a start.
3. Virgins vs. Veterans: This system will allow for knowledgeable veterans to held build and participate, and ensure that those camp leaders do not exclude virgins, but instead welcome them as helping hands! The open sale also keeps options open to those who simply cannot contribute via a theme camp or art project.
4. Open Sale and The Lottery: This concept does away with a lottery completely, and creates a more complex open sale with certain rules meant to keep scalpers out.
5. Tiered Ticketing: All tickets in this system are of equal price. This can easily be adjusted if needed, but at least by keeping theme camp participation tickets equal, it will not burden those contributing.
Again, this is just a rough draft, and I’m sure there are plenty of issues. But no matter what system we choose, there will always be some problems. They key is finding a solution that best fits our community and building upon that. Good luck out there, pass it on, and let me know what you think!