Ticket Scalpers Aren’t Ruining Burning Man, but They Are Trying to Exploit It

It’s incredibly disheartening to see listings for Burning Man tickets at exorbitant prices proliferate moments after the Main Sale has concluded. We hate it, you hate it, everyone except ticket scalpers hates it. But we in Ticketing have good news about that, and we want to make the truth absolutely clear: the majority of these inflated listings are bogus. They aren’t real. These listings are essentially phishing scams, looking to lure eager Burners so desperate to get to the playa that they’re willing to pay a premium to an unknown source to make their playa dreams come true.

Unfortunately, some companies, such as Stubhub, Viagogo, and Vividseats, allow sellers to post these speculative listings, which means the seller often does not actually own the items they’ve listed for sale. They see an opportunity for a tidy profit, and they post the listing on the chance they’ll be able to prey on the eagerness of some hopeful Burner. Once they’ve made the sale, these ticket speculators attempt to find a face-value ticket to pass off and then pocket the considerable markup. All this at the expense of a Burner who just wants to make it out to the playa.

Burning Man Bucks (Photo by Rob Sturtz)

Adding insult to injury, these companies have terms that heavily favor the seller, such as allowing the seller to cancel the transaction a week or two before the event date if they can’t deliver the goods they’ve sold, leaving the buyer out in the cold with no recourse and no tickets just before the event.

Even if the listing is backed by actual tickets, the original Burning Man terms of sale forbid them from being resold above face value, and if they are sold above face value, they are subject to cancellation without notice. So those really expensive tickets that were purchased in a moment of desperation might not even actually be good for entry into the event. There is nothing more heartbreaking than someone buying a ticket in good faith and trekking all the way out to the desert, only to learn that the ticket they hold in their hands isn’t valid.

We want this practice to stop, and we’re not alone. Some big-name artists, national governments, and the the majority of the primary ticketing industry have been rallying against the secondary market, and recently they have made some promising strides.

How Ticket Speculators Affect Burning Man

While Burning Man has been in the spotlight for a while now, we’re fortunate that ticket reselling actually isn’t a large issue for us. Other events of similar scale and draw frequently see 30-40% (and higher!) of their tickets on the secondary market, sometimes because they themselves have arrangements with various distributors and resellers. It’s not uncommon for more than half of big concert tickets to never even get offered to the public — they go straight to brokers through back-room deals.

Not only does Burning Man not offer any of our tickets through any secondary channels, we see only approximately 2% of our tickets circulating in the secondary market at inflated prices. In the ticketing industry, that is unheard of. That said, we are constantly monitoring and tracking listings for our tickets, and cancelling orders being resold at a markup as they are identified. (As we cancel orders we put them on our cancelled order/voided ticket list.)

You can help, too. Friends don’t let friends buy marked-up tickets. If nobody buys the tickets at inflated prices, the market for them disappears. Educate your friends and family about the importance of only buying tickets from known sources, and only for face value. Flag and report any listings you find; as a potential buyer, you have more power in this situation than Burning Man the company does. Some sites are more responsive than others — Craigslist is great about pulling posts, eBay is okay. The other sites are a lot less helpful, but we encourage you to do everything you can to make your voice heard.

And if you see a listing for a scalped ticket, please let us know so we can track it. If there is identifying information about the seller, their order, or the items they’re selling, take screenshots of everything and send it to us. It takes a community to bring this behavior to a halt.

Black Rock City Box Office (Photo by Ian Lauder)

Why Does It Feel Like No One I know Got A Ticket in the Main Sale?

Lots of people who want tickets in the Main Sale don’t get them. When those disappointed people see listings for scalped tickets, it’s easy to assume that real Burners got cheated out of tickets by scalpers who gobbled them all up. But as we’ve said, only 2% of Burning Man tickets appear on the scalper market. So what actually happened in the Main Sale? The math is straightforward: approximately 80,000 people registered, which could mean demand for as many as 160,000 tickets, and there were only 30,000 available. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand: The odds are against getting a ticket in the Main Sale.

Fortunately, the ticket sales are not the only option. If you still seek a ticket, get yourself into STEP (the Secure Ticket Exhange Program) as soon as it opens, keep your eyes on ePlaya, sign up for the OMG Sale, and most importantly, reach out to the community around you. Don’t know a lot of Burners in your area? Here’s an opportunity to get to know them and get involved. Find the contact for your area on our Regionals list.

For that matter, there are also a whole bunch of other amazing Burns all around the world. You’ll find them all on the Regional Network website.

It’s also possible to experience Burning Man without going to an event. Look for Burning Man in the small moments and in the people you meet, the spontaneous soulful interaction with a stranger, the bond forged by making something with a group, the energy that comes from giving of yourself and being a part of something bigger. Burning Man is not limited by geographic place or the calendar, or whether or not you have a ticket to Black Rock City.

See you there.


Top photo by Scott London

About the author: Rebecca Throne

Rebecca Throne

Rebecca has been Burning Man’s head of Ticketing since 2007. She creates and implements ticketing strategy and operations each year. She first attended Burning Man in 1999 and began working with the organization as a volunteer in 2001 with the Center Camp Café. Seeing firsthand the need to foster community and organize to support the 500+ volunteer base of the Café, she pioneered the role of Volunteer Community Manager. She continues to focus on ticketing strategies that support community, as well as facilitating critical communications to the Burning Man community through producing the annual printed Survival Guide and What, Where, When handbook of participant events. Prior to her experience with Burning Man, Rebecca worked in branding and creative direction, business innovation strategy, retail management, and dabbled in finance, although at her core she has always been an artist. When not working on Burning Man projects, she is happily raising two young Burners in her native San Francisco.

41 Comments on “Ticket Scalpers Aren’t Ruining Burning Man, but They Are Trying to Exploit It

  • Nordictoad says:

    Excellent spot and information. Thank you for all your hard work year round. Relax people, tickets tend to open up in July and August as people realize that they can not make it to the Playa.

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  • Finn says:

    I don’t see why you don’t do what Glastonbury festival in the UK do. When you register you submit a picture. Your name and photo are on the ticket. This forces people who have bought a ticket to use it themselves. If a person wants to by for a friend in the sale, they can their friend just needs to give them their unique code.
    If that person wanted to sell that ticket, then they could either use STEP. Or, there could be the option to transfer it to a fellow burner, if this is done before ticket dispatch then no problem, if it is after tickets dispatch that person’s ticket is voided and the recipient would need to pick their ticket up from will call. This centralised transfer gives the person receiving the ticket a chance to report the person if they were charged over face value and that person would not be allowed to participate in future sales. I don’t see how a scalper could then exploit this system, and it still allows freedom of ticket transfer between burners.

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  • Reality says:

    Bmorg INC and their shills are hypocritical scum. BMORG SCALPS THEIR TICKETS FOR $1000 and $1200 presale. They don’t want competition. Bmorg begs for donations while paying top employees $300,000 each. Bmorg gets unlimited free tickets to give to family , customers and friends. Until they stop doing that ignore their self serving blather twaddling.

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    • Tim says:

      Blah blah blah. Bullshit conspiracy theories about the evil BMOrg are so 2015.

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    • silvergirl says:

      Its the Borg’s party. Happy to attend. I’m glad to buy a ticket and volunteer to boot. Its been a good experience for me, as it has for countless others. Honestly, I wouldn’t want the headache of negotiating the land permits, tax issues, infrastructure etc. If I threw a party I would likely have comped schtuff for family and friends. Continue on, Borg….

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    • WillCallVolunteer says:

      Yeah and those “scalped” tickets fund the low income sale. Such a bummer for low income participants, having their tickets subsidized by people who can afford it!

      Wait…

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  • Robert says:

    Not sure how randomly cancelling tickets is helping, that just increases the anxiety.
    Here’s some easy remedy:
    – One ticket per person
    – Name on ticket
    – abandon vehicle passes.

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  • Kaylene says:

    What are the barriers to requiring ticket holders to present ID? Has this been looked at?

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  • Paul Holmes says:

    The proven solution – photos printed on tickets. It stops scalping pretty much dead in it’s tracks. No complications of ID checking, fake IDs, or genuinely forgotten IDs.

    Just bring your face.

    Glastonbury has done this for years. It works.

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  • JV says:

    Our camp got extraordinarily unlucky this year. Out of a camp of 20 or so people, not one of us got a ticket in the main sale. We’ve generally gotten about 50% of what we need there. Not sure what we’re gonna do, probably our camp won’t happen this year.

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  • Peter Videler says:

    My humble advise as 1xburner….

    Please introduce e-ticket on NAME.
    I only see advantages:
    – only transferabele via STEP
    – gate check either via official ID or picture on ticket
    – no more fear of lost/stolen tickets
    – no more scalping
    – enforces BM culture

    To make the ticket lottery FAIR again:
    – make the main sale a TRUE lottery. I.e. Annonce which profile got lucky to buy a ticket. Be transparent and involve a public notary or something.
    No waiting in queue, who refreshes fastest or has most devices online.
    – give people a week or so to arrange payment.
    – maybe even a weighted lottery based on #years #participation?
    – Stop selling $1000+ sponsor tickets. The Playa experience is not for sale. (you can still allow large sponsors to contribute, and give tickets according to there participation via DGS)

    See you NEXT year?

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  • Wizard says:

    Great article! Broadcasting it as much as I can

    Wizard
    Time To Burn app

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  • John says:

    This was to be my first time at Burning Man, but alas there are no vehicle passes and I am one ticket short (there are three of us who planned to attend). Based on what I read, the odds of finding one ticket and a vehicle pass are long.

    The costs for us to go to BM are exorbitant – airline fare, RV and bike rental, supplies, plus the cost of taking leave from one’s employment. Waiting to purchase airfare until I am assured of tickets drives the cost of the fares, making BM even more costly.

    When we started our planning we knew little about the logistics of BM. We have invested a good deal of time in planning and finding resources- affordable RV, available bikes to rent, etc. The anxiety has been great and we were very let down when we were only able to snag two tickets.

    I don”t think the continued anxiety is worth it, and I doubt that I’ll try for BM again. So now my search is for the easiest and quickest way to sell my tickets for what I paid through Ticketfly. This assumes that BMorg believe it’s fair for the two tickets to be sold for more than face value (face value + NV entertainment tax + ticketfly fee + delivery fee).

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    • Papa Bear says:

      Oh yes, it is worth it. So so much…
      And no, you don’t need an $5k RV – a tent and a shade structure will do just fine – that’s $500 to $700 tops.
      And you should buy airplane tickets right away – it will remove the anxiety entirely. You’ll then go to Burning Man for sure, and don’t worry, the playa will provide and you will receive your extra ticket and VP…
      The odds are not that long – last year after the main sale, none of us got tickets, and the 10 of us all found tickets !

      If you want to go to BM, tickets will come to you…

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    • Aseem says:

      Hey i would love to buy your tickets if your not keen on them. I have never been and would be gratefull to check it out. Me and my partner are travelling from nz and doubt we would be in this area at this time of the year again anytime in the near future. :) if jot all good and i hope you find a ticket!!!

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    • Myriam uhde says:

      Hi, Sorry to hear! but i do have to say If you like Ill buy your tickets! Contact me soon . I would also be a first timer! email me please at myriam@greggandsons.com

      Report comment

    • James sasso says:

      So carpool. Wah wah wah poor you. It’s cheaper then a trip to Northern Europe etc. some people eat beans and sleep in the dust.

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    • Silona says:

      All of this talk of cost and I hear nothing about the cost of participating or bringing art. Instead of bringing an RV bring some art.

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    • Voo-Doo says:

      “This assumes that BMorg believe it’s fair for the two tickets to be sold for more than face value (face value + NV entertainment tax + ticketfly fee + delivery fee).”

      SOLD.
      Just tell me how you want to do it. I also missed out on my chance at 2 tix and a V/P

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  • Jimmy says:

    For the past three years, four (4) of us have executed the Main Sale exactly to the second of the start. None of us have tickets! What gives?
    Is BM purposely trying to force is to buy the more expensive tickets?
    What gives here …

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  • Hero says:

    It seems only the BMORG is concerned about our privacy, most of us are not. and as long as they don’t scan our IDs, who cares? There’s still the idea of being able to ‘gift’ a ticket to someone else, but lets get real…with such a demand on tickets, sorry, folks, I’m keeping my tickets.

    A couple of commenters are spot on about ‘wheres the participation here’? I have contributed 7 self-funded art cars in the years i’ve been going. so I am not carpooling, and I need the RV to tow it. Yes the system keeps wanting me to pay more and more for the privilege of participating in a meaningful way. And yet I still do it, because its still worth it, because the playa is awesome. I could give a shit about how much Marion or Larry make, I’ve never met them– their product is good because I make it good.

    But, alas, didn’t get tickets, and I’m not going to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of $ pretending that the universe will provide me one. So, I’m not going this year. And Burning Man will be just fine without me, sad to say.

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  • sve says:

    One day VR will come to the playa. So that people physically present and those virtually present can meet and interact. Dunno what the technology will be (3D rooms/projections, telecomm, etc) but it will work. Will probably also extend to the art being partially physical and partially virtual.

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  • Sofia says:

    How many tickets are actually exchanged via STEP each year?

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  • Ken Feldman says:

    The news that first time ticket buyers get a statistical edge over returning Burners is infuriating to me. And I’ll bet most of the people posting on here didn’t know this.

    While we did get our Directed Ticket allocation, almost no one else in our camp got tickets. Some of them will find tickets, maybe 10%-20%, but to make our project work we need lots of people to help. This means we have to recruit at least 50% of our camp. This lack of continuity damages our community and makes our already complicated project that much harder to execute.

    Why give virgins a preference over veterans? It’s hard enough to get tickets, why screw over the people who have made the event what it is??? Keep the playing field level, please! There will still be plenty of first timers.

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    • Zach Wasserman says:

      Source for this assertion that first time buyers are prioritized over returning Burners?

      That would be a real shame — and a huge story — if it were true.

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    • James Keeler says:

      It is the luck of the draw my friend. My camp had fewer tickets available this year, so I tried my luck at the general sale. To my surprise I got my two tickets and Veh pass. My profile showed that I have been a burner since 2000. Go figure. Newbies make BM great! The first time I went I thought I died and gone to heaven. I love knowing some newbie will have an eye opening, life changing perspective for the rest of their life, from experiencing BM. Lets all share the experience!

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  • Tropixxx says:

    This community is eating itself.

    Report comment

  • Off White says:

    Dudes, just go and stand outside with a sign that says “I need a miracle” and the universe will provide.

    well, some sort of experience will be provided, guaranteed.

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    • Voo-Doo says:

      I did that last year. The universe provided me with a scammer / thief from Reno first, but did eventually welcome me to the Playa.

      * I too am on a quest for 2 tix and v/p.

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  • John says:

    Agree with earlier comments with Glastonbury, with an attendance of 153,00. Any argument as to this approach being scalable can be called into check.
    As to cost, ticket already have to be printed so that negligible.
    Privacy, you not able to pay cash for the ticket. You have to use a bank card to pay for the ticket in the first place, so there a trail.

    BRC spent a small fortune buying land for long term projects, but then doesn’t take a proactive approach on something like this.

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  • Ron ball says:

    BMorg has a daunting task of pulling off a miracle every year. BLM’s permit allow for 70,000 without BMorg submitting a plan to accommodate more should the population exceed the allotted amount of participants. This number does not count staff, EMS, etc.

    The main sale is what 30,000. When are the other 40,000 sold? I’m assuming a good percentage goes in the DGS for theme camps. Is that accurate? Or perhaps in presale.

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