By Jared Shelly, senior editor/web editor of Risk & Insurance®
Although it was filled to capacity, the Minsk-Arena in Belarus continuously fell silent. A plane crash robbed the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team of its chance to play against Minsk's Dynamo in the season opener on September 8, but the 15,000 ticketholders did not ask for refunds. They gathered to say goodbye to the 44 players and coaches who perished.
Choir singers draped in white sang over an orchestra's requiem. Fans brought flowers and made memorials outside the arena. The opposing team, in full uniforms and pads, stared across the ice at large placards with photos of the Lokomotiv players. From time to time they hit their sticks against the ice in unison, a sign of respect in the hockey world.
Sports fans across the globe tried to figure out just how an entire team, which had made the conference finals the previous season, could simply be gone.
Meanwhile, American risk managers could not help but wonder: What if this happened to a team in the United States?
It certainly wouldn't be the first time. In 1970, a chartered plane carrying 37 members of the Marshall University football team, as well as eight coaches and 25 boosters, crashed in West Virginia, leaving no survivors. But Alex Fairly, executive vice president and leader of the sports and entertainment practice for Willis Global Sports Services, said that today's sports professionals probably don't even remember the Marshall crash.
"People running professional teams today were children when that happened, then all a sudden something like [the Russian plane crash] happens and they say 'Wow I haven't been paying enough attention to this,' " Fairly said.
The Russian hockey crash was certainly a hot topic when Fairly met with clients who run a U.S.-based minor league hockey association on September 20.
"We had four or five topics on the agenda for that morning and they said 'No one wants to talk about any of that stuff, they want to talk about [the plane crash.]' " Fairly said. " 'Do we have the appropriate limits and coverages?' "
Fairly told them that the first step after such a tragedy would be paying the workers' compensation claims made by the dead players' family members. He also helped the minor league hockey association take a look at its coverages regarding travel and injury. He reminded them that, with air travel, teams typically deal with the major airlines which have $1 billion in limits. Many teams will add contingent liability coverage to that to protect against lawsuits filed by employees hurt or family members of employees killed during travel.
Dan Burns, president of sports insurer Pro Financial Services LLC, based in Schaumburg, Ill., said that pro and college teams in the United States typically have insurance covering travel accidents, which protect against accidental death and dismemberment.
Sometimes, teams will stipulate that their coverage is just for events involving five or more individuals. They may also carry coverage for individual team members who get hurt accidentally, whether they're on team business or not. (Think Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger crashing his motorcycle a few years ago.)
While risk managers would probably love to mitigate travel risk by scheduling games region by region allowing them to take buses, that's just not logical in today's age of TV sports.
"Most teams are aware of the potential exposure," Burns said. "It does not happen very frequently but does give everyone piece of mind that they have catastrophic protection in place in the event of a very unforeseen and unfortunate set of circumstances."
Not to mention, there is probably more exposure on the ground than in the air, Fairly said. In fact, a bus carrying the Bluffton University baseball team in 2007 crashed on a highway in Atlanta, killing five team members along with the bus driver and his wife. Twenty one were injured.
"There are far more minor league teams in business than major league teams -- probably seven or eight times more -- and they are traveling around on buses," Fairly said. "[When it comes to local bus carriers] teams are asking questions like: Who are these people? How long have they been in business? And what are their safety records?"
September 20, 2011
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