[updated 11:11pm 2/22/12 to incorporate 1,000 tickets for inner circle, bringing it to at least 58,000 tickets already spoken for. This changes the percentages a little]
[update 4 2/24/12 12:13pm they officially sold 53,963 tickets in 2011, against the permit of 50,000. A 6% increase to that is 3238, which gets us to 57,201. And if the BLM doesn't mind a 5% overshoot, there could be even more tickets to come
Also in the comments Joe asked me to put a disclaimer on this post to say that it is not news. That's right people, this is not CNN! ]
After posting today about Burners’ occasional mathematical confusion, it occurred to me that even I was confused about the maths on this whole ticket situation. So I did some more digging, and was unpleasantly surprised by what I found.
Here’s the 2011 Permit Decision from the Federal Bureau of Land Management.
Black Rock City, LLC shall be authorized to conduct the Burning Man event on public lands in Pershing County, Nevada for a one-year period (2011), with a maximum of 50,000 participants…the permit period would extend from August 1 through September 19, with the actual event occuring August 29 through September 5, 2011″.
Uh-oh. Rather than things being sorted out now, it looks like we could have an even worse fiasco on our hands in Gate-gate than just the first lottery debacle, followed by the World’s Biggest Guest List, followed by the potential looming failure of STEP to solve anything.
Worse? What could be worse? What about, even if you have a ticket, you can’t go?
Can you imagine the carnage? You thought you were one of the lucky ones, you got a ticket and said “see ya later suckers” to all the friends back home, spent the rest of the year working on art and costumes and camps, bought a week’s worth of provisions, drove for 12 hours, waited another 5 hours in the line to actually get in – only to have to stay in the line. Sorry, we’re full. We can’t let you in until someone else leaves. Even if you’re on the list.
Paranoid delusions? Well, not according to the maths. It’s really quite simple.
A quick re-cap on the ticket sales so far (for more detail see our series, Exploring the Other)
We had 3,000 tickets go to “early birds” in December, at $420 each. Why did these people pay more than the standard ticket price, to get in early? What did they know that we didn’t?
Then we have 4,000 tickets slated for “low income Burners and friends and family”. This in itself is somewhat controversial – although it is noble to want to help the poor, and the BMorg HQ is located in the Tenderloin, Burning Man may not be the best channel for this type of noblesse oblige. Surely poor people have a much higher incentive to sell these tickets through scalpers? And a much smaller budget for art and goodies to Gift to other Burners? [update 2/24/12 10:10am - these tickets have to be collected at Will Call, in a bid to prevent scalpers getting hold of the low income tickets]
After that, we have the infamous lottery. Although the consensus of Burners.Me voters is They Lied About The Tiers, assuming for a minute that everything BMorg says is true we get:
10,000 Tier 1 at $260
15,000 Tier 2 at $320
15,000 Tier 3 at $390
And now the announcement of 10,000 Guest List tickets at $390.
Yes, Virginia, that makes 57,000 tickets. Not to mention at least another 1,000 for “participants” in the event who are truck drivers, gate workers, Burning Man staff and families, and so on. And thousands of kids 12 and under who get in free.
More precisely, it is at the sole discretion of Rolando Mendez, the BLM field manager for the region, who I interviewed last week, along with assistant field manager Cory Roegner. And one of the things I learned that I found most interesting is that the population cap won’t even be set until this June, after all the tickets have been distributed.
“Black Rock City LLC is free to sell as many tickets as they’re inclined to,” Mendez said. “That’s a calculated business decision on their part, but I would expect Black Rock City LLC to live by the population cap that I set.”
Right now, both the LLC and BLM are awaiting completion of an Environmental Assessment (EA) report on the LLC’s request for a five-year permit that seeks apopulation cap that would gradually increase from 58,000 to 70,000. A draft report is expected next month, after which there will be a public comment period, with the final report expected in June.
“I have not determined how to allocate that population cap over time,” Mendez said, expressing concerns over limited highway access to the site and other factors. “Too sudden of a change at too great a level could overwhelm the system.”
Here’s some more information on Burning Man’s plans to slowly increase the permit from 58,000 to 70,000 over a period of 5 years, gradually at like 5% a year. This would mean 61,000 this year (or, 52,500 by the BLM’s figures).
Will Roger is one of the board of directors that helps run the event. He spoke about wanting to grow the event recently, but doing so at a slow pace.“For everyone concerned, slow growth is better than big growth. We’re looking for something in the 5 to 6 percent range. That would be ideal for everyone.”
Burning Man, which just opened its doors a few hours ago, gives the BLM a reported 1.2 million dollars in permits each year. That figure accounts for about 3% of ticket sales for the event. In total, it cost somewhere in the vicinity of 5.5 million dollars to make Burning Man happen last year, with “the Man” costing a reported $156,000.
Will seems to have let slip some “real” numbers rather than the reported ones. At 3% Burning Man is making $40 million in revenues, at $5.5 million in costs they’re left with a profit per party of around $35 million. The permit clearly stipulates they have to pay BLM 3% of the gross from the event – boy that is a lot of ice and coffee they’re selling, in addition to the gate.
The cost of $5.5 million is also vastly different from the $17.5 million reported in the New York Times. Both these figures appear in the official numbers for 2010 – although you will notice a gaping disparity between “event costs” and the other administrative overheads. Yep, it costs them twice as much to do all the great things they do during the year as it does to actually throw the party. Including the $1.2 million for the BLM permit. What great things? You know, like coming up with the ticket lottery, thinking of a theme, listening to the community, designing STEP, and deciding which 10,000 names to put on the guest list. Seem like a good use of $10 million+ to you?
I sure hope this Environmental Assessment report is something paid for and driven by BMorg, and not some government bureaucrat with a thousand more politically pressing things on his desk. Unlikely, though – the last report seemed to be written by the BLM. I hope relations are cosy with the Winnemucca Field Office, and no-one over there got jilted by the lottery:
Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area
Winnemucca Field Office
Bureau of Land Management
Do Federal Agencies care about elections? It is an election year after all, and President Obama has been cracking down on potheads – who knows if this has created any additional pressures within the BLM, especially in relation to a single high-profile media friendly event like Burning Man.
One thing we do know is that Burning Man has sold 58,000 tickets already to an event that last year was only allowed 50,000.
This can’t be good news. It’s definitely not good news for anyone holding out hope for a permit increase leading to a whole bunch more tickets coming on the market before the end of August.
What are they going to do if the BLM comes down hard on keeping the permit at 50,000? Or, even worse – what if the BLM do everything Burning Man asked them for? A 5% increase in numbers raises the permit to 52,500. This means the last 5,500 people to get there get knocked back. That’s 9.5% of all the tickets, that are just going to be waiting in a big long line from Black Rock City to Gehrlach. Having their own party on the street.
Either BMorg are lying to the Burner Community, or they’re lying to the BLM. OR – and I’m really stretching now trying to give these guys the benefit of the doubt – they know the BLM is going to approve a 20%+ permit increase, and they just don’t want to tell the community yet in case it messes up the paperwork or gives us false hope. But they’ve gone ahead and sold almost $3 million worth of extra tickets on that basis anyway.
We’ll give the final word to Larry Harvey, talking to the New York Times last year about the changes ahead for the Burner Community:
We’re going to treat Burning Man like what it always should have been: not as a commodity, but as a gift,” Mr. Harvey said, explaining the festival’s multiyear transition strategy during an April 1 speech in San Francisco. Before handing Burning Man over to the new nonprofit, he added, the company’s owners will take an undisclosed payout. And this is where things get complicated