Rain insurance saves groups from big losses at outdoor events

Mother Nature seemed to be ready to step center stage again before last year’s annual outdoor Our Hospice of South Central Indiana fundraising concert — just as she had done its three previous events.

Early arrivals, some wearing souvenir T-shirts semi-prophetically reading “Come Sail Away,” already had sat with umbrellas and ponchos in a steady downpour seemingly enough to sail them away.

And then came a misty afternoon sprinkling.

Even when the precipitation stopped, darker clouds canopied Mill Race Park while a stiff storm wind blew a bit of frustration through the proceedings just before opening band Mayan Miscalculation broke into its first number.

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Columbus’ Kirk Thomas sat in the crowd hoping for the best. He’s a longtime supporter of the hospice mission and the organization’s concerts dating to 1986. He’s also the local Johnson-Witkemper insurance agent who earlier in the year had sold Our Hospice its first rain insurance policy — something of a trend in the past decade with large outdoor events, according to insurance specialists.

The nonprofit agency that helps the very ill and their families had seen two out of its past three concerts aborted because of rain. And a third was moved indoors, shaving at least 10,000 people off the normal attendance and dramatically trimming proceeds from food, T-shirt and other sales.

Agent Thomas quietly considered all this — and one thing more.

“I thought there already might have been enough rain (a quarter of an inch since 2 p.m.) at that point (to pay a claim),” Thomas said.

But the storm clouds moved on, and the concert with former Styx lead singer Dennis DeYoung moved forward. Turns out that radar later showed that rain totals hadn’t reached the designated amount for a claim, either.

But Our Hospice, which sponsors its next big outdoor concert Sept. 5 with former longtime Eagles’ guitarist Don Felder at Mill Race Park, can rest a bit easier today than in the past. Its $20,000 rain insurance policy, costing $3,050 annually, at least makes certain that it won’t be all wet if raindrops keep falling on its head.

Major sponsors cover hospice’s biggest cost — that of its performers.

Hospice leaders never needed such insurance help until 2011, when a severe thunderstorm sent a Grand Funk Railroad crowd scurrying for their cars. Until then, the event had been affected by weather only once — when the 1987 gathering was moved to the Columbus North High School gym for The Drifters and the Platters. But a crowd of about 7,000 at the gym then was considered a remarkable success.

In more recent years, Our Hospice has raised more than $100,000 at some concerts with crowds estimated at 10,000 to 15,000. Last year’s somewhat waterlogged group of 5,000 for DeYoung was able to raise $67,000, far below the agency’s goal.

As for the insurance, “it’s just something we knew we could do to reduce our risk,” said Phil Bush, Our Hospice director of business operations.

The policy allows Our Hospice to submit a claim if the day is sufficiently soggy — and then still carry on the concert if rain stops in time.

The Columbus Area Arts Council got its first rain insurance policy in 2009 for the Johnson-Witkemper Insurance Biggest Block Party Ever concert and arts fundraiser. Although rain came near the end of last year’s event, the agency has never filed a claim.

“It’s peace of mind,” said Karen Shrode, the arts council’s executive director.

Its rain insurance for the Aug. 14 Rock the Park concert featured $75,000 of coverage for a premium of $3,150. Its coverage stipulated that three-fourths of an inch of rain must fall between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. the day of the event for the arts council to collect money.

The arts council has declined to cover its 2-year-old Live on the Plaza event, moved indoors this summer because of rain. Shrode said the investment is hardly as significant as its other two shows.

Johnson-Witkemper agent Dan Fox, who sold the arts council its policies, sometimes tells clients one thing — with a dry sense of humor: “If you buy this rain insurance, you’ll never have a claim.”

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  • Rock the Park: $75,000 policy for $3,150. Requires three-fourths inch of rain between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. on concert day.
  • Biggest Block Party Ever concert: $20,000 policy for $860. Requires a half inch of rain between 4 and 10 p.m. day of the event.
  • Our Hospice of Bartholomew County concert: $20,000 of coverage for $3,050. Requires one-fourth of an inch of rain between 2 and 8 p.m. on concert day.