With $10 million on the line ...

Steamboat man 'insures' audience will get a kick out of halftime show

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— When the Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams head into their locker rooms at halftime Jan. 1, Steamboat Springs businessman Joe McNasby will sit up straight on his couch and pay close attention.

McNasby is neither a Cowboys nor a Rams fan -- he still holds Philadelphia Eagles season tickets. What will matter most to him about the final Sunday Night football broadcast of the season on ESPN is the halftime show.

McNasby owns a company called MDM. He and his son, Michael, who works with him, put together the insurance coverage that protects ESPN in case some weekend athlete plants his or her toe squarely in the middle of a $10 million prize.

During halftime, a contest winner will attempt to kick a soccer ball into an open net from midfield, then double up with a 50-yard field goal. If both balls, the regulation MLS soccer ball and the official NFL football, wind up where they are supposed to -- that certain someone will be $10 million richer. And McNasby's client will be covered.

If only one of the kicks is successful, the contestant will receive $25,000. If neither kick is successful, the contestant will receive $10,000 for the effort.

ESPN based a large multi-market consumer promotion on the contest, which it calls "Fðtbol a Football." The intent is to capture soccer and U.S. football, the two most popular programs on ESPN Deportes, ESPN's Spanish-language network, in a single event.

MDM isn't underwriting the insurance policy that protects ESPN -- McNasby's company acted as a middleman in the process. ESPN came to him, proposed a budget and asked him to package a halftime event.

"The contract is set up, and the odds (of the halftime contest) have to fit the budget." McNasby said.

After a lengthy East Coast career in the insurance industry, McNasby decided to move to Steamboat. During his career in the Philadelphia area, his company put together insurance coverage for large building contractors, among other clients.

McNasby said he knew he couldn't maintain the international sales force of a larger company after moving to the Yampa Valley, and he began to guide his business through a transition. By recognizing businesses that need unorthodox types of insurance coverage, McNasby was able to create new niche markets and pitch the business to larger companies with the means to indemnify clients and large sales teams in place.

"We've become known for unusual coverages," he said.

A significant portion of MDM's business is in creating insurance coverage that protects companies from unanticipated weather.

One client, a large Midwestern bakery, makes specialty pies and depends heavily on holiday business. McNasby put together insurance that protects the bakery if a big Thanksgiving storm, for example, makes it difficult for customers to get out of the house to buy gourmet desserts.

When changes in state laws compromised the ability of resort property managers to collect on security deposits from guests who damage their vacation rentals, McNasby's company responded. MDM created an insurance product that covers $3,000 in accidental damages for a premium of $35.

Calculating the exposure, or risk, to a client is known in the insurance business as actuarial work. Just as life insurance companies compile databases of statistics about life expectancy for different subgroups of people, an insurer gauging the inherent risk for a client hosting a one-kick field-goal contest needs information. MDM does not function as an actuary. However, Michael McNasby's vast knowledge of sports statistics helps the company negotiate coverage, his father said.

The organizers of golf tournaments have been hosting hole-in-one prize contests for many years. And they can buy insurance against the loss based on the probability that the ball will drop in the cup.

Michael McNasby once brokered insurance coverage for a fishing competition in Wisconsin. It protected the organizers from the likelihood that a lucky angler would catch a fish with a special tag in its dorsal fin. Those competitions have become almost commonplace.

When it comes to field-goal kicking, the risk and the need for coverage can be adjusted downward with every 5 yards added to the length of the kick, McNasby said.

ESPN originally wanted the Jan. 1 contestant to kick the field goal from 40 yards. But that would have resulted in a premium nine times higher than it will be from 50 yards.

MDM's job, McNasby said, is to find a happy medium between the client's promotional goals and its budget. ESPN would love for the Sunday Night Football kicker to win the prize. They chose a $10 million prize because U.S. TV audiences have been proven to respond to large jackpots. The Powerball lottery underscores the trend. So, ESPN had to balance its desire for the kicker to win with its budget for insurance premiums.

And there are other variables to consider. For example, Texas stadium isn't a dome, but has a large opening in the roof -- a sort of donut hole. Rain and sleet can fall through the hole in the roof, but the wind does not blow at field level in the stadium. Those weather factors have to be taken into account. The lack of wind improves the odds for the kicker.

McNasby said he anticipated the soccer kick would be the easier of the two. The person already has been chosen and has several weeks to hone his or her skills. Texas stadium has artificial turf, which should eliminate unlucky bounces, and there won't be any goalie to swat the ball off its course.

However, McNasby will look closely that Sunday night to see who was attracted to the contest.

ESPN solicited contestants through ads and on its Web site. That's a significant difference from a contest in which somebody was more randomly selected when twisting the cap off a soft drink bottle, for example. McNasby said he anticipated this contest should produce a kicker who is confident in his or her abilities.

"My biggest interest is in the profile of the person, their age and their ability," McNasby said.

McNasby said he didn't expect to see a 64-year-old grandmother step to midfield Jan. 1. Instead, he envisions a former athlete. Contest rules prohibit someone who played goalie for a college soccer team in 2004 from taking part, for example. But the actuarial work done on future contests could be affected by the athletic prowess of the people attracted to this double kick for $10 million contest.

McNasby was a pretty fair right-handed baseball pitcher who played a little professional ball right out of high school in the Philadelphia area. But he never played a sport that required him to kick a ball.

On the first night of the New Year, he'll get his kicks pulling for some stranger to put one ball in the back of the net and a second through the uprights to go home a multi-millionaire.

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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