No one likes ticket scalpers.
Instead of wanting to enjoy a concert or sporting event, they often buy up a bunch of cheap tickets, then sell them at insanely marked-up prices, with little negotiation.
But in the case of Burning Man — a giant one-week art and cultural festival in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert — one man was able to get a ticket from a scalper at a reasonable price by turning the negotiation on its head and completely outsmarting him.
It all started with an ad on Craiglist:
Ben Feibleman, a tech investor/entrepreneur who had been searching for the coveted tickets, spotted the ad and immediately noticed the ticket price was double its original price (Disclosure: I’m a personal friend of Ben).
What’s more, ticket speculation is completely against what the festival is all about, and the organisation cancels tickets they find were sold above face value. The event has grown so large and tickets sell out so quickly, the organisers work hard to ensure no real fans of the event end up getting screwed by an exorbitant ticket price.
“Whenever we could undeniably prove that someone was selling their tickets for a markup, we cancelled their tickets and notified them that they were no longer valid (since they had breached the terms of sale),” it reads on the organisation’s website.
So Feibleman came up with a plan: Confront the scalper, gather the evidence — but give him a chance to redeem himself. He emailed him to tell him he had cash on hand, and could meet in Palo Alto immediately. They exchanged numbers, and the scalper gave him a call.
“I didn’t answer the call so I could get records,” Feibleman told Business Insider. He responded via text message.
At Starbucks, they met face-to-face and had friendly small talk in the corner. The scalper explained that some of his friends were going but he could no longer go, so he had to sell his ticket.
“Are you a veteran burner?” Feibleman asked (People who attend the festival call themselves “burners” and it’s rare that one would scalp a ticket). The scalper said no. Meanwhile on the table, the car pass and ticket were visible so the QR code could be scanned to verify the ticket was legitimate. Instead of scanning the code, Feibleman snuck a photo instead.
Since he couldn’t go anymore, the scalper said he was covering his losses, telling Feibleman the price of $US950 was “supply and demand.”
That’s when Feibleman confronted him: “I’m gonna offer you $US450 here,” he said. The scalper told him he wouldn’t negotiate and started to get up, as other Starbucks patrons began to look over at the confrontation.
“As soon as you leave here, I’m going to send all this information to the Burning Man office,” Feibleman told him, while he began to walk out. “You’ve got an hour. You better sell those things in an hour, otherwise they will be worth nothing.”
Soon after, Feibleman began texting him to explain he had more than enough evidence to send in, and his tickets would be canceled if he didn’t do the right thing.
The scalper was angry, and not very happy about where this was going.
Then, Feibleman decided to up the ante. He would post his own Craiglist ad.
“Go ahead and do it,” the scalper texted him back. So Feibleman did:
As this drama was playing out on the pages of Craiglist, Feibleman started getting fan mail from fellow burners.
“Amen brother! Thank you for doing what I wish I had time to!” read an email he received. Another told him: “Major thumbs up!”
He even received invites to come by fellow burner’s camps, once he finally made it to Black Rock. Now realising his name was on the line — blasted all over Craiglist — the scalper angrily called Feibleman upset about what he could potentially be doing to his reputation.
“I feel bad, but I feel for worse for everybody else,” Feibleman told him of his fellow burners. “Ask your burner friends how they feel about this.”
The scalper finally realised he was defeated, although he was still very angry. He agreed to meet again a short distance from the Starbucks.
“Once I realised he was shifting his tone and ready to do the deal,” Feibleman told BI. “I stopped being aggressive.”
The scalper finally accepted he wasn’t going to win this one: “I’m giving it to you cause of your burner explanation.”
They met again, where Feibleman told an angry scalper that a “convenience fee” was more than fair, putting the price to $US450. The scalper tried to get a little more, but he said, “Look dude, the negotiation is over.”
They finally settled. The initial contact to sales close took no more than one hour, with a true burner headed to the desert, ticket in hand, and a scalper begrudgingly accepting a fair final price of $US450.
“If he really cares about karma, and he really wants to go to Burning Man, and he cares about it,” Feibleman told BI. “I feel like I saved him from being an a–hole scalper.”
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