AFTERBURN REPORT 2011
2011 was an exciting year in the world of Ticketing! Unfortunately, sometimes exciting isn't always good thing ...
We started off on a high-note: our gorgeous 2011 ticket design was created by the extremely talented and popular artist Android Jones. Android created a lush, dreamy-yet-slightly-ominous representation of the transformation that can take place in Black Rock City, thereby illustrating the 2011 art theme "Rites of Passage".
For the fourth year we offered a limited number of Pre-Sale tickets available for $280 each (the third price tier in 2011). These were again hugely popular and seemed to set the stage for a happy Main Sale launch in January.
Shortly after the conclusion of our successful Pre-Sale, we reviewed the online sales system to make sure all the ducks were lined up to ensure a successful Main Sale launch in mid-January, and it appeared that they were. Nothing had changed with the system from the year before, which worked beautifully. With that history and a multi-team check in, all systems were go and we anticipated another great launch.
Unfortunately, that's not quite what happened. The system that hummed along so happily making Burners' ticketing dreams come true in 2010 buckled under the hugely increased demand of 2011. We had no way to anticipate that demand would be so much higher, and while most of the system was set to handle it just fine, there was an issue with the queuing servers, which caused a major system issue. Once everything was assessed and our ticketing partner attempted to restart the queue, the system coughed up a big furball and did not maintain some people's correct places in the queue. All hands were on deck to try and mitigate the damage and do everything we could to help folks who got caught in the quagmire. We worked tirelessly with our ticketing partner to make sure that appropriate communications and reparations were extended to affected participants.
In the end, while it was a really painful process for everyone involved, we did sell more tickets than any previous launch day, and we were committed to making sure that people's voices were heard, and concerns addressed. For the most part, people were reasonable and understanding, and we helped everyone we could. There were of course a few bad apples, which honestly were a dark spot and incredible disappointment in the context of this otherwise shining community – we got a number of angry, hostile, and even abusive communications from folks. We even had one person go so far as to track down the personal cell phone number of the head of our ticketing partner's customer service team and issue verbal death threats.
Not surprisingly, with overall higher ticket demand our two discounted ticket programs – the Scholarship and Low Income programs – got hit hard. As a result, we awarded all tickets in those two programs months earlier than we ever have in the past. Unfortunately this caught off guard some folks who like to do things last minute. Not a lot could be done about that outside of our regular reminders to our community that these tickets are all first -come first-served and in very limited supply.
The other unfortunate consequence of the high ticket demand was that we were unable to offer tickets via our walk-in ticket outlets for the entire Summer as we have in the past. When we saw that the end of tickets was drawing near we had to pull the plug on the outlets in order to best manage our limited remaining inventory and make access as fair as possible. Once again, our outlets handled the change with admirable grace and expressed their gratitude to the Burning Man community for supporting them and letting them be a part of their Burning Man experience.
As it became clear that it was inevitable that tickets would sell out, we embarked on a very intense series of meetings to collaborate on a communications plan and action strategy that would keep participants informed, encourage people to get their tickets if they hadn't already, and not incite panic (which threatened to sell out tickets faster, expanding the window for the secondary market). Despite the squeaky wheels who insist otherwise, we were actually quite successful with this plan on all fronts.As a result of the tickets selling out, an email ticket verification service we've offered in the past to help people buy tickets more safely from third parties was completely overwhelmed. This is an entirely manual process of looking up participant-provided information to see if it matches the information we have on record for the original ticket buyer. We literally were getting 300 emails some days. As such, the ticket office enlisted the help of our online ticketing partner's skilled support team to help ease the burden some. Even with their help, we frequently found ourselves having our entire day consumed by wading through these emails. The other aspect of this service that was never an issue in past years was the fact that the service is meant as a means of reassurance but is by no means a guarantee. With the volume of tickets that now change hands from party-to-party we simply can't continue to support this and risk exposing the information of legitimate tickets to potential scammers. We do plan to find another way to get the info out to the community for any tickets that we know of that have been reported as dubious (whether lost, stolen, being counterfeited, etc.).
The new post-ticket-sell-out landscape also brought with it the professional counterfeiters. In past years there have always been a few "homemade" attempts at making a fake ticket. They were rudimentary in their execution and easy to spot. This year, the professionals took notice of our event and the fact that people were willing to pay lots of money for our tickets. The incredibly unfortunate result was a number of pretty convincing fakes out on the market and these shady people taking advantage of our eager participants. As soon as we became aware that these counterfeits were on the market we began broadcasting their information as far and wide as we could, and thankfully we were able to save numerous folks from falling prey to this scam. The Gate staff of BRC did an excellent job of intercepting the fake tickets, and we assisted the BLM in gathering evidence so they can potentially mount a criminal investigation. Some people have asked "why were the tickets so much easier to counterfeit this year?" and the fact is that they weren't. The reality is that this was one of our most secure tickets ever, it just happened to exist in a climate where there was very real incentive for knock-offs to be produced.
On playa, our Box Office operations went incredibly smoothly and our seasoned management team worked together like a well-oiled machine. After our experience in 2010 when the lines got too long, we nearly doubled the capacity the Box Office could handle. This required an additional building and a bunch more staffing. The irony here is that tickets selling out before August 1 meant far fewer ticket orders were held at Will Call. So even though our overall participant numbers were up, the Will Call numbers were down. The aspects of the Box Office that we're looking to improve for next year include better lighting, better positioning in relation to the entrance road, and increasing the number of windows that can handle the more complicated transactions and difficult situations. All in all, it was a great year for the Box Office.
Throughout 2011 there really wasn't a single dull moment in the world of Ticketing. The theme that was especially present was that the best preparations we can make need to go toward remaining nimble and ready and able to handle whatever comes our way. With that in mind, we're looking forward to another action-packed year of managing Burning Man tickets!