It seems like we’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest, with members of BMOrg feeling “besmirched” by our speculation that something more has gone wrong with the ticket lottery than simple ineptocracy could explain.
While I enjoy the Burning Man party, and appreciate the efforts of both the organizers and the participants to put it on, I don’t always buy every single party line that ever comes out of BMOrg. For example “this is not about money”, when there’s $20 million plus at stake. Or “this is about radical inclusion”, when they’re running the World’s Biggest Guest list.
We’re not making accusations about anyone in particular. However, we’re not the only ones who think something is not right with the ticket lottery process. It’s not Burners.Me that’s fucking up Burning Man.
So, let’s review all the pieces of information, which in our opinion, suggest something untoward is going on – then please vote your own opinion at the end of this post.
The evidence is circumstantial, only because that’s all we can do: speculate. Only a few people know the truth, and they’re not talking, or if they are, they’re denying it til they turn blue in the face.
#1. Burning Man is changing from an LLC to a non-profit. There has been a clause in the LLC agreement, which restricts any of the 6 founders from pulling out more than $20,000. Over the next 3 years, as part of the transition, they will be cashing out of the LLC, and handing things over to the non-profit.
An earlier agreement stated that each member of the LLC would only receive “sole compensation for many years of service, a golden parachute of $20,000”. But the board members all agreed to an out of court settlement in which each member of the board would receive undisclosed sums.
Marian Goodell, board member and head of communication, addressed concerns about the lack of transparency with this statement: “When you’re in the middle of a storm, if you’re going to explain all of how you got there, and how you’re going to get out, it often sets more panic among the survivors than if you just sail the boat out of the darkness.
Is it just a coincidence, that the first year the founders want to cash out, they change the system? Not only that, they change it to a radically new one that screws the community around but appears to maximize ticket value?
#2. Some of the original founders are disgruntled by these moves, and have openly said that they will be scalping every ticket they can get their hands on: “why shouldn’t we cash in like Larry is?” This week we saw a high-level resignation of a key BMOrg player.
#3. There was not a problem looking for a solution. Last year, tickets sold out for the first time ever – just over a month before the event. This year, numbers have increased from 50,000 to 58,000. If they had just maintained the status quo, maybe it would have sold out again – so what? Events on a first-come, first-serve basis sell out all the time. There does not seem to be a compelling reason for the change in the ticketing system.
#4. When BMOrg first outlined plans for a ticket lottery, the Burner community voiced their disapproval. Many accurately predicted that it would be a debacle, and play into the hands of scalpers. BMOrg ignored this, and are still ignoring it.
#5. BMorg had an early release of tickets, in December, for $420. Why would the earliest tickets have the highest price? Who would pay almost double for a ticket? There were obviously some insiders, who had information about how scarce (and therefore valuable) tickets were going to be.
#6. BMOrg implemented a survey, asking people how many times they’ve been to Burning Man. The details of this have not been shared with the community. What did they do with this information? Did your answers to questions in the survey, have any bearing on whether or not you won tickets? How many applied for high-price tickets, versus low and mid price? A Burner created their own survey, with more than 1600 responses – it is quite enlightening.
#7. 40% of applications for tickets were from newbies. This would presumably include all scalpers. Someone had to make a decision about this 40% – or are we supposed to believe that the lottery was purely random, and the answers to the questions didn’t affect your chances in any way? Choosing 40% to newbies, is the same as saying that 20,000 of last years Burners can’t go.
#8. After the ticket lottery, only a minority of Burners had tickets. Most theme camps only got 20-30% of the tickets they were chasing. I know hundreds of Burners, but I don’t know anyone who won tickets in the lottery, although I know some hot girls who got tickets offered to them by winners shortly after. Our poll shows 40% in the same position. If 40% of tickets were for newbies, then 60% should have gone to Burners.
The numbers don’t add up – there seem to be 20-30% of the tickets that went neither to Burners, or newbies.
#9. BMOrg’s first response was to point the finger at the Burner community, for getting friends and family to order more tickets than they needed. If this was actually true, we would have seen way more than 1% of tickets getting washed through STEP.
#10. BMOrg’s next response was to plead ignorance, and blame it on a Dr Seuss themed viral video. This doesn’t make sense to me, given the MASSIVE amount of media coverage Burning Man has received over 25 years. Books, films, Vogue, Autoweek, the New York Times, Malcolm in the Middle, Workaholics. Do you really believe that none of these could bring Burning Man to the attention of people who would like to go, compared to a single YouTube video? What about all the other YouTube Burning Man videos, with far more hits in aggregate?
#11. BMOrg’s next response was to cancel the release of 10,000 secondary tickets, thus ensuring that NO-ONE could get tickets except through scalpers and STEP – unless they were on the guest list. BMOrg ignored all calls for some kind of transparency to be attached to this process. The tickets supposedly went to theme camps, but who got them is still a mystery.
#12. Burning Man sold 58,000 tickets before the permit has been approved. They were obviously very confident in the 58,000 number. Now that the tickets are sold, what do they have to lose? Why not go to the BLM and ask for 60,000? 62,000? All the calculations have been done, they show that the event can easily grow to 70,000 without major changes. Why prefer “slow growth“, if that means a “swiss cheese effect” decimating the community? This opportunity seems to be COMPLETELY RULED OUT by anyone to do with BMOrg, even though there is extensive data in the Environmental Impact Assessment about the population cap increase, local newspapers are interpreting the EA as “increase to 70,000“, and the BLM is saying “there have been very few objections to the permit increase to 70,000″. It’s easy to tell us “you’re stupid, didn’t you even read the report, it says growth over 5 years”. Yeah, I read it, I linked to it, I quoted it. But if you have the Feds saying “we would approve 70,000”, isn’t it worth a try to get some more tickets out there? Would it really be that hard to just ask?
#13. Despite the crisis, and repeated calls to link IDs to tickets, BMOrg refused. The excuse was “it would be too difficult to implement” and “it would be against gifting”. I don’t buy either of those excuses – other festivals do it all the time, all round the world; and why couldn’t I specify what ID I wanted to associate with each ticket I bought? They already send people into your vehicle, checking for stowaways. How hard would it be to ask people to produce IDs during these inspections? To me, it seems not hard at all.
#14. The argument that scalpers got a lot of tickets just by entering the lottery like everyone else, doesn’t make sense. They would have to make 3+ entries for every ticket they won. Each entry would have to be from a different address and credit card number. This would create a huge risk that they ended up with ALL of the tickets to the party – if the scalpers did not know in advance what the lottery application vs. allocation rate would be. They would be risking a huge amount of capital, for an unknown potential gain. The amount of time this would take would require large teams of people, entering and filling in the survey. Each application took minutes to complete, the lottery was only open for 2 weeks. These false entries would be easy to detect, since there would not be a large variety of IP addresses hitting the servers.
#15. We (and many others) have been speculating on these matters publicly since the start of February. When did BMOrg come and comment on the speculation? As soon as the price of tickets on the secondary market looked like it was going to drop below $1000.
Burner Raftin has prepared this useful graph of Stubhub prices. Our post More Ice, More Exodus, More Tickets was published on March 19. April 13 is when Will Chase posted in the comments that they would not try to get any more people to the Playa this year.
You could over look any one, or two of all the above points, as coincidence, incompetence, bad luck, or all of the above. Take all fifteen together, and it shows what we believe to be a consistent pattern. Lack of transparency, lack of care about the Burner community who has made the party what it is today, and decisions that play perfectly into the hands of scalpers.
What do you think? Where there’s smoke there’s fire? Or does everything seem completely kosher and above board?