Note: I use the word soccer rather than football in this article for the sake of clarity worldwide.
Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez: their names rank among the most recognizable in the world. But for life insurers, what may not be so well-known are the risks that they – and thousands of other soccer players worldwide – represent as policy applicants.
Always dominant globally, professional soccer is rapidly growing in popularity in new markets throughout North America, China and elsewhere. Underwriting these athletes poses unique considerations, however. Underwriters must ask the question: Do these athletes, all in peak physical condition, also pose peak risks in some areas?
RGA recently investigated underwriting trends affecting professional soccer players. The goal: to find key areas of enhanced risk and help establish underwriting guidelines for this specific group. Supporting insurers with customers who pursue special occupations and avocations is a specialty at RGA.
Professional soccer players bring a range of mortality considerations, from substance abuse (individuals in high-profile, large-income positions are more susceptible) to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (repeated head impact has been linked to conditions such as ALS). Primary risks in include:
- Sudden cardiac death
- Murder or kidnap
- Group accidents
- Anxiety, depression and suicide
- Substance abuse
- Musculoskeletal injuries
- Concussions and consequences thereof
In addition, high salaries generally equate to high cover amounts. On the group side, this high cover coupled with the potential for a team travel catastrophe can prove especially daunting. A reinsurance partner can mitigate large claims risk and provide guidance in evaluating unique considerations.
Finding the Signal in the Noise
Mitigating these risks begins with better understanding their nature. RGA bases all analysis, to start, with readily available resources: medical literature, government records, professional bodies like FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), etc. Relevant, formal studies on cause-specific and all-cause mortality are the preferred form of evidence. It is important to ignore the added media attention given the death of high-profile individuals and focus on statistics – just because a famous soccer player dies young of a heart attack does not necessarily mean the insurer should adjust the risk profiles for all players.
Each study must be evaluated and weighed based on analysis type, cohort size, and, of course, results. Unique regulatory and cultural circumstances can also influence risks. For example, a nation or organization mandating or recommending certain health tests can influence reported incidence rates. In 1982, the Italian Ministry of Health mandated required screening for all who participate in competitive sports. The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) requests that all players under the age of 21 have extensive medical tests, including electrocardiograms. Meanwhile, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association do not recommend mandatory ECG screening of players based on the small number of detected cases and the high cost involved.
Research findings must then be synthesized and analyzed to produce informed conclusions. RGA tests and adjusts conclusions based on claims experience and market insights. For example, the chance a professional soccer player may be murdered or kidnapped is higher in certain countries and regions.
As a global reinsurer, RGA has reviewed applicants with special avocations, including soccer players, in multiple countries around the world. This proprietary experience combined with general research is sifted and scrutinized to create underwriting guidelines. The guidelines are reviewed regularly and updated as experience dictates and as new studies become available. The long-term effects of concussions such as the development of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), for example, continue to be investigated. As a new scientific consensus emerges about head injuries, and governing bodies such as UEFA react and implement new rules, the risk profile of the sport continues to evolve.
So are professional athletes and similarly exceptional individuals and groups insurable? Of course – with the right process and strategy. Like soccer, a team approach works best, and partnering with a reinsurer can provide the perfect assist on the way to your goal.