2013 was a good year in the world of Burning Man ticketing. The lessons learned from 2012 left us well poised to put in place some new structures around ticketing to help address the community’s concerns, support our very real need to better manage our sales, and to aid our continuing effort to undermine the price-inflated secondary market.

While 2012 had many difficult aspects, it ultimately proved to be a valuable learning experience that allowed us to continue to improve our approach overall. We realized that going forward with increased demand, all of our ticket sales would need to have some form of pre-registration — that participants would have to actively engage and make a little bit of an effort to opt-in. As the Burning Man culture continues to spread like wildfire around the globe, the actual event in the Black Rock desert has some inherent constraints, and the trials of 2012 really brought to everyone’s consciousness that Burning Man is much larger than just “That Thing In The Desert”. As a result we’ve considered many different mechanisms and structures that best support getting tickets directly into the hands of participants in the most equitable ways possible. As demand for tickets continued to increase it was clear to us that everyone would benefit from some streamlining of our ticket sales plan. One key example of this was the move away from a tiered pricing structure, which was an historical legacy that wasn’t serving anyone well anymore.

Registration for access to tickets in 2013 took place through the (then) brand-new Burner Profiles system, which helped to engage users with this new platform in its early stages. While Burner Profiles has a lot to offer in the way of accessing, maintaining, and reflecting Burner history and activity, it unfortunately can’t easily handle the load of our big ticket sales days. As such, it became a weak link in the sales process.

We also put a lot of effort into working with our vendor to get them to a place where they could better support the needs of our organization and the larger community. We worked tirelessly with them to help bring the quality of their support methods and messaging up to par with our expectations for what our community deserved. Even with the ground that was gained, the tiny Burning Man Ticketing office at HQ still personally handled over 20,000 email support requests. Fortunately, at the beginning of 2013 we were able to bring on a much needed third full-time person to help support ticketing.

One of the primary ways that we continued to support the community was through offering the Secure Ticket Exchange Program (STEP) for its second year. Everything with STEP went really well, and when we were able to release more tickets it gave us a pre-qualified list of people waiting for access to tickets. We were happy to be able to reward those people in the STEP queue with a large portion of the additional tickets we were able to release. In addition to creating a safe place for tickets to recirculate amongst Burners, it also worked in conjunction with our late-season OMG sale to essentially pull the bottom out from under the ticket speculators and scalpers looking to exploit our community and capitalize on the (misguided) sense of scarcity around tickets.

Another community-minded aspect of ticketing that got a lot of attention in 2013 was our Low Income Ticket Program. We continued to revise and streamline the administration of the program and review process, which meant that we were able to review and notify people of their status faster than ever before. A lot of care goes into the review process, so we’re always looking for ways that we can improve it; we’re always striving for the sweet spot between attentive, fair, compassionate review and efficiency. Ultimately we accepted and reviewed over 8,000 applications in order to award and distribute the full allotment of 4,000 Low Income tickets.

The 2013 “Cargo Cult” art theme lent itself to rich ticket design. We were fortunate enough to get to work with first-time Canadian Burner Spencer Cathcart on his ticket concept depicting a kind of retro-interpretation of what a boarding pass to the future might look like, complete with the Man being beamed down from a flying saucer into Black Rock City.

A lot of energy was put into improving and streamlining Box Office systems and procedures so that we could help as many people as efficiently as possible. A couple of key elements that made these efforts an overall success was the introduction of a “mobile Box Office” functionality which allowed Box Office Managers to help alleviate the lines by processing Will Call pick up orders while participants waited in line during peak times. It essentially gave us the ability to scale up the throughput of the Box Office on demand, which was a huge win. The other really notable change was that we redesigned the queue in front of the Box Office so that it is one long snaking line rather than independent lines to each separate window. While this change may not seem monumental, it meant that the line was always moving, even during shift changes, as whichever window was open could help the next person in line. This improved the experience of those in line and also allowed us to process orders more quickly. Last, but certainly not least, we introduced Box Office Karaoke on opening night so that those in line could let loose and better enjoy their time at the Box Office. After being in a car for many hours a dose of Karaoke fun was a welcome release for those waiting in line.

Unfortunately, a lot of the improvements put in place that made the Box Office experience better overall were undermined by the overwhelming traffic and congestion in the Will Call parking lot, which wasn’t able to handle such a large volume of traffic. Needless to say this is being analyzed and completely reengineered for 2014.

A final note on 2013: after a very lengthy review process by a multi-disciplinary task force, it was decided to change ticketing vendors after 12 years. As with most things related to Burning Man, there isn’t a single out-of-the-box solution that would meet our needs. This meant taking a long, hard look at our organization’s trajectory and priorities, trying to anticipate what our needs would be going into the future, and then evaluating who would be the best partner to support us in our time of growth and transition. It’s a bittersweet change but we are excited about our new relationship and what the future holds.

Submitted by,

Rebecca Throne