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How COVID has Shaken Up the Event Insurance Market

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Wimbledon was among the dozens of sports events to have been cancelled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy photo

By David Owen |

Among the many and varied problems thrown up for sports leaders by the coronavirus pandemic, disruption to the insurance market is not the least irksome.

I was alerted to this before Christmas, when my own travel insurance provider emailed to say that the company was no longer offering such cover.

But, of course, the difficulties faced by those striving to put on international sports events while COVID-19 continues to stalk us are much more consequential.

The two main issues appear to be these: prices have shot up; and insurance that would protect event organisers against cancellation owing to COVID-19 is simply not available at a time when, intuitively, you would think it was most needed.

“From an event cancellation perspective, COVID-19 cover is not possible,” according to Carl Baxter, a member of the sports and entertainment team at Miller, a specialist insurance and reinsurance broker operating in Lloyd’s of London and other international markets.

“Communicable disease (even excluding COVID-19) is also not available,” Baxter adds.

Alli MacLean, global product leader live events in Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS)’s entertainment business, concurs.

“It is our understanding that no cover is available in the current market for event organisers seeking protection against cancellation of events due to COVID-19,” he says.

MacLean does add, however, that “regionally, Government bodies are engaged with insurers and event organisers to develop a fund or backstop to provide some protection”.

For the time being though, “this has not yet been implemented on a widespread basis”.

Allianz recently joined the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s The Olympic Partner (TOP) worldwide sponsorship scheme.

This is under an eight-year deal which will cover Beijing 2022, Paris 2024, Milan-Cortina 2026 and Los Angeles 2028.

On prices, Miller’s Baxter says: “Generally speaking, rates are anywhere between 25 per cent and 100 per cent higher for like-for-like cover than they were before COVID-19.

“There are variations to this, depending on the sub-class.”

While confirming that higher deductibles and reduced cover are among ways in which event organisers can theoretically mitigate price rises, Baxter states: “At the same time, the losses over the last year have reinforced clients’ understanding of the risks associated with a cancellation policy.

“We are actually seeing clients being more risk-averse and taking out more cover than before COVID-19.”

Allianz’s MacLean has detected “more of an emphasis in the current market on protecting any media rights or broadcasting revenue from an event”.

He goes on: “TV revenue is still an important source of income to organisers that requires protection.

“Underwriters have also seen an increase in transmission failure enquiries, both from traditional satellite or fibre-optic transmission, or a growth in streaming broadcast.” 

In all honesty, it is hard to blame the industry for hiking its rates in view of the 2020 it must have had.

Probably the best-publicised sports event-related insurance policy was that pertaining to Wimbledon taken out by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC).

Last July, even though Wimbledon 2020 had been called off, the AELTC announced that “following consultation regarding our insurance cover for cancellation”, it was allocating a total of $13.7 million of prize money to more than 600 players whose world ranking would have enabled them to gain entry to the tournament had it taken place.

But with so many events cancelled, there must have been dozens of claims.

And with premiums typically amounting to only a few per cent of projected gross revenues, it would not require many payouts before losses started to mount up.

Allianz’s MacLean describes 2020 as a “tough” year for companies insuring sports events, “as many events were cancelled or postponed due to coronavirus restrictions”.

He continues: “Claims have been reviewed and paid to those clients with communicable disease coverage.

“It demonstrated the benefit of the cover, but the accumulation of losses over an extended period meant that underwriting results have been varied for insurance carriers.”

Says Baxter: “From an insurer point of view, 2020 was very challenging due to the many billions of losses sustained through cancelled and postponed events.

“With less events being organised due to the various lockdowns worldwide, a key focus for brokers has been helping clients to secure claims payments, which is after all the primary reason clients take out insurance.

“While no policyholder wants to suffer a loss, in the event they do, a broker’s job is to ensure the claims process is as smooth as possible.”

While Tokyo 2020 organisers are putting in a phenomenal effort to give the postponed event the best possible chance of being able to proceed this July, as rescheduled, many still take the view that until COVID-19 is demonstrably and durably under firm control, cancellation cannot be ruled out.

More than 400,000 people worldwide were, after all, reported to have died because of COVID-19 in January alone – the pandemic’s highest monthly death toll.

A recent report by the news agency Reuters said that insurers were facing a $2 billion -$3 billion loss if the event were cancelled.

Citing brokers, the report said that would amount to “the largest ever claim in the global event cancellation market”.

The IOC’s cancellation insurance premiums appear to have been rising steeply in recent times.

The body’s financial statements indicate that while it paid $7.56 million for cover relating to Sochi 2014, the equivalent figure for the subsequent Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang in 2018 was $12.79 million.

But such sums are a small fraction of the likely payout should a valid claim on an Olympic Games, or other major event, cancellation policy be triggered.

Asked for an assessment of the size of the market for sports event insurance in terms of the value to insurers of policies written, Allianz’s MacLean responds: “There is no global report which accurately states the premium income within the contingency market, but a recent article suggested annual premium income of $500 million (£365 million/€410 million) to $600 million per annum.”

No event can compare in scale and complexity with a Summer Olympics.

Nonetheless, one can appreciate it would not take very many large claims to potentially wipe out that level of premium income.

In this environment, it may be argued, you must need the nerves of an Olympic champion to be an insurer.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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