Obstacle course racing presents insurers with unique hurdles

Obstacle course racing (OCR) like events featured on American Ninja Warrior have grown in popularity. As the extreme factor of OCR increases so does the risk for event organizers. These competitions do not have the reliable historical data, consistency of events, and general safety measures seen in traditional footraces, making it difficult for insurers to price OCR’s exposures.

A new article by Michael Henk entitled “Obstacles for insurers of obstacle course racing” explores OCR’s unique risks. It also provides perspective for insurers to consider when pricing premiums in this emerging market.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Imagine that there is a local half marathon looking for liability insurance to cover its event. An insurance company can use data from past races (either in the same location or spread across a broad geography) to predict expected losses. Because half marathons have been around and been insured for decades, there is enough data for a credible analysis. Because OCR was almost nonexistent until 2010, insurance companies do not have that same degree of industry data. As with any emerging market (such as cyber liability, drone insurance, and self-driving cars), insurers do not know what to expect, and therefore, insurance premiums are priced higher to make up for the unknowns.

Another obstacle in the way of establishing a credible database is that all obstacle course races are not the same. When you decide to run a marathon, you know what to expect: run 26.2 miles. Road races might vary by elements such as terrain, local weather, and elevation changes, but overall, similar risks can be expected across all events. If you run a marathon in Chicago, it is similar to running a marathon in Miami. Likewise, insurers also know what to expect with these traditional races. They can use past data and rely on well-established safety standards to determine the proper level of risk and premiums.

Obstacle courses do not have the same consistency. Running a Tough Mudder race in Minnesota is entirely different from a Spartan race in Florida. The lack of standardization makes it difficult to price insurance policies. For example, if one race has a wall that is 20 feet high and another event has one that is five feet high, they pay the same premium even though the risk of injury from falling is greater with the 20-foot wall. These higher premiums can potentially cause race organizers to pay more for insurance than necessary. The risks associated with one obstacle course can be completely different from the risks of another, but insurance companies will still price them relatively the same as there is not enough historical data to allow for differentiation in the policies.

If the industry developed a consistent and credible database of obstacles, insurers would be able to accurately price each race based on the risk of individual obstacles. In fact, with a database like that, races could even be tailored to fit a specific target “riskiness,” selecting obstacles that result in an organizer-preferred premium amount. The current way of one-size-fits-all is not an efficient use of funds for race organizers.

The article was coauthored by Jenna Hildebrandt, an actuarial science student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

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