Leadership / 06.05.19
Ticket Sales Are on Fire for This Year’s Burning Man
Excitement is building for Burning Man, a late-summer event held annually in Black Rock City — a temporary city erected in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, about 100 miles northeast of Reno. The event takes its name from the symbolic ritual burning of a large wooden effigy (aka “The Man”) that usually takes place on the Saturday evening of the event.
This year’s Burning Man is set to begin Aug. 25 and end Sept. 2. Lulu Lurline, Ticketing Project Manager for Burning Man Project, says, “The thing that makes the Burning Man event unique is that the organizers do not provide any of the content. We merely create the container that participants fill with their content — be that sculptural art, performance, educational talks, communal showers, yoga classes or a shared seven-course dinner. Because of this, we do not dictate what kind of event Burning Man is. That’s really up to our community. Some years there is more electronic dance music, and some years there is more bluegrass music. It really is what our participants make it.”
Innovative ticketing plans and initiatives have also come to define the yearly gathering. One of the best known is the Secure Ticket Exchange Program, or STEP. According to Rebecca Throne, Burning Man Project’s Head of Ticketing, the STEP program came together after tickets to the event sold out for the first time in 2011. “We knew we had to do something to create a safer way for tickets to circulate in the community at face value,” she says. “It wasn’t just about protecting buyers; it was also about protecting the sellers. People were contacting us worried that if they sold their tickets to a stranger, they might inadvertently be giving inventory to a scalper who would then use it to exploit the next eager person. So, we created the Secure Ticket Exchange Program to give participants peace of mind that they could return their tickets and other genuine Burners would have a chance to buy them at face value.”
“The people buying tickets got the peace of mind that the tickets they were buying weren’t marked up and were guaranteed to be legitimate,” Throne says. “It was also incredibly valuable from the standpoint of undermining the secondary market for our tickets. It’s been encouraging to see how the industry has shifted more in this direction since we first introduced STEP in 2012. A number of the major ticketing platforms now offer some form of fan exchange, and there are companies dedicated to filling this specific need.”
Lurline fondly recalls hashing out the details of how the program would work over pancakes and bacon at her and Throne’s favorite breakfast eatery. “I remember trying to convince her that the tagline for the program should be ‘Leap into STEP!’ since we were launching it on Leap Day. Luckily, she turned that idea down. But the program has really served our community well over the years.”
Over the years, Burning Man has also become known for its Low Income Ticketing Program. Launched in 2004, the program’s main goal has been to ensure that the event remains accessible to people from all socioeconomic circumstances. Burning Man has always had a tiered pricing structure, and the trend for the lower-priced tickets to sell out quickly was well underway in the early 2000s.
“We were concerned about artists and other lower-income participants being priced out of the event, which would have been devastating,” Throne says. “Today, we continue to offer more than 5% of our public tickets through the by-application Low Income Ticket Program. In addition to this program, we support many art groups that are bringing work to the event through discounted or no-cost gift tickets.”
Lurline, who started volunteering for Burning Man in 1999, adds, “This program doesn’t have any kind of income cap. Rather, we’re interested in the individual’s entire economic situation. Someone could be making over $100,000 a year but have two kids and be paying off medical school debt while supporting their parents. We also take into consideration the distance it would take someone to travel to the event, as well as their willingness to contribute and be a part of the community. We don’t want individuals to be excluded from coming to and participating in Black Rock City merely because they cannot afford the price of a ticket.”
Best of all, kids 12 and under get in for free with their parent or guardian. Lurline herself benefited from this policy when her mother first brought her to Burning Man when she was 6 years old. “I’ve learned so much by participating in the event from such a young age,” she says. “I think that, more than anything, Burning Man teaches children that anything is possible, and growing older doesn’t have to mean growing out of play, or exploration or taking risks.”
Children and their families have been an integral part of Burning Man since the first Burn on Baker Beach was held in San Francisco in 1986. Legend has it that when founder Larry Harvey and his friend, Jerry James, built the first Man, their young sons were there next to them building their own effigy to burn: a dog to go with The Man. “You need kids, you need elders. You need the diversity of energy and perspectives different ages bring to keep things real,” Throne says.
Burning Man’s box office crew has grown since the 1980s to around 150 volunteers and staff who run three on-site box office locations 24 hours a day for 14 days. Some of those volunteers have been working the event for more than two decades. “Working on a yearly cycle is a challenge because we don’t have very many opportunities a year to get it right, and our mistakes stand out that much more,” Lurline says. “I want to ‘get it right’ every time and not let the community down.”
“Supporting the growth of [the Burning Man] community through ticketing is complicated,” Throne says. “We could sell our tickets for a lot more, and we could have them all in a single sale at the beginning of the season and be done with it. But we’ve made deliberate choices to not do those things in service of the bigger picture. The goal isn’t to just make money. It’s to build community. The income supports the organization so it can continue supporting the community in Black Rock City and beyond.”
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Tags: Music , Personalization