As NCAA Selection Sunday fast approaches, March Madness bracketologists will be sharpening their pencils and studying the results of the many conference tournaments all in hopes of picking a perfect bracket. The tournament selection committee makes best efforts to disperse the most worthy college basketball teams, placing No. 1 and No. 2 seeds into four separate regions in an attempt to craft the perfect Final Four. Nearly each and every March, an underdog or a "Cinderella Story," as Bill Murray might say, breaks through and carries-out the most unexpected upset - the Bracket Buster.
Much of the nation follows along with their bracket print-out and markers in hand, but no real rooting interest in mind, other than bragging rights with friends or cashing in the office pool kitty. More sophisticated players might play for higher stakes or even travel to Las Vegas for the NCAAs, especially the opening weekend which has surpassed Super Bowl weekend in terms of fanaticism at the hotels and resorts in the desert. Only a handful of fans are the students, faculty, alumni, subway alums or college townspeople who actually have a direct connection to their favorite college basketball team. They are the potential clients for a new version of March Madness Bracketology. They will watch the early rounds of the NCAAs with hopes of attending the Final Four.
Nowadays, as face-value ticket prices have increased dramatically and the secondary ticket market fuels and benefits from the soaring demand, very few of those diehard fans can afford the price of a ticket, nevermind a pair of good seats to watch their team at college basketball's annual convention. This year, there's a new mechanism in the marketplace and it's called TickAssure!
You might be quite surprised to learn that the insurance industry - notably the people of Lloyd's of London - who've created the analytics and crunched the numbers to allow insurance underwriters to create an online marketplace where, currently (as of March 9, 2016), a policy costing $12.67 and a keen mind to predict the four college basketball teams to navigate their way through the madness and win their way on the Road to the Final Four in Houston, Texas, concluding April 4 at NRG Stadium.
"TickAssure's mission is to provide the everyday sports fan an opportunity to have access to big-time championship events," said Todd Armstrong, founder and CEO of TickAssure! "If a fan is forced out to the secondary market for an elite-level event, it is not cheap. It's gotten to a point where most fans, A - can not afford or B - they are simply unwilling to pay prices that high.
"When I came up with TickAssure, it was out of a real-life example when Auburn advanced to the BCS national championship game and, like so many other fans, I went out on the secondary market to buy a ticket and simply could not afford not only the tickets but the tickets and the whole trip," said Armstrong. "I thought that surely, there was a company out there selling some kind of financial product that might help fans afford tickets to these elite games. I dug-around, looked, and there was no such company in the marketplace. I had some early conversations with friends in the insurance business and we found there was no such company. My next question was, 'Well, why not?"
Armstrong realized the fact no one in the ticketing world or the insurance industry had "connected the dots," and said he was introduced to underwriters at Lloyd's of London.
"I was looking for a solution," noted Armstrong, "not to start a company."
After Lloyd's proved they had quite an appetite to create a new product in the insurance world, TickAssure! was created with a focus on college football and now basketball.
"They are really indemnity contracts, legally," said Armstrong, noting that any party may indemnify another party. "We call them 'championship protection plans,' and they are written by our underwriters who use our proprietary rating index for the teams in each sport and then the actuaries come back to us with the prices."
TickAssure! does not secure the tickets and, currently, the company is not affiliated with any specific ticket source or secondary ticketing company, although they list a few dozen approved sources where fans must purchase and supply proof of purchase to be reimbursed up to $1,500 per ticket for the current NCAA Final Four offering. Armstrong is in discussions for potential partnerships in the industry.
The Select Four Protection Plan offering of $12.67 will be in place until tournament committee provides the actual teams/brackets, thus skewing the odds significantly. If predicting the entire final four seems daunting, fans of any one team in the tournament can secure a protection plan just for their team, a product much more expensive but closer in line to Armstrong's original desire to create a system where a ticket-buyer might significantly cut costs to attend the championship event. However, just like car insurance, if your team doesn't qualify for the NCAA semifinals, it's as though you never get in a car accident - you get nothing.
"The prices fluctuate from week-to-week, depending on the sport," said Armstrong who pounds the software as the actuaries rack their brains for all possibilities, mirroring the gaming world for sure.
Although Armstrong and TickAssure! have yet to discuss direct connections with the NCAA or various bowl game organizers, they have approached specific teams, with the result being interest and unanimous agreement that the new insurance product is an attractive option for fans. They are contemplating "Season Ticket Protection Plans" whereby significant success on the field can insure discounted prices for season ticket holders to renew their plan.
Fans can find the most updated individual team and select four protection plan prices by visiting www.tickassure.com online. The company has created an online product only and while it is mobile friendly, they have yet to develop an app.