North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

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November 24, 2012

Iron Bowl shut-out of Auburn means jeweler's customers get money back

GARDENDALE — Auburn fans were not the only ones sad to see a goose egg on their side of the scoreboard during Saturday’s 49-0 Iron Bowl loss to Alabama.

So were some insurance underwriters with Lloyd’s of London.

The internationally-famous insurance firm’s underwriters took Gardendale jeweler Jeff Dennis up on a bet. If either team was shut out in the game, all of Jeff Dennis Jewelers’ customers from Nov. 16-23 would get their purchase price refunded — that is, their purchases will be free.

It’s not the first time that Dennis has run promotions such as this. In the past, he’s offered customers refunds if it rains on a customer’s wedding day, if the temperature went above 100 degrees by a certain day in August, or whether or not there would be snow locally on Christmas. “We missed that one by just one day once,” he said.

But this is the first time that the promotion has had the emotional tie-in for customers that the Iron Bowl has, and also the first time it has paid off for them.

“I wasn’t taking sides on who was win, though I knew that if either side was to be shut out, it would probably be Auburn,” Dennis said. “I am a fan of whichever team I get free tickets to go watch... I used to take it way too seriously. I was an Alabama season-ticket holder for many years. Now I’ll take my daughter to an Auburn game and wear an Auburn shirt, or go to an Alabama game in an Alabama shirt.”

Lloyd’s is not a traditional insurance company, but instead is a market where those who wish to be insured for some event come to seek underwriters. Lloyd’s then puts the proposed indemnity before its members, traditionally referred to as “names.” In the more than 300 years that Lloyd’s has been in business, those names have been wealthy individuals who pledged their entire fortunes to cover losses. The firm began in a London coffee house run by Edward Lloyd in the late 1600s, and was established primarily to insure ships at sea.

In recent years, corporate syndicates have supplanted most of the individuals, especially after heavy losses and bankruptcies of some names in the 1990s because of liabilities stemming from decades-long asbestos poisoning cases.

Lloyd’s has long been known for its willingness to insure the unusual, such as the vocal cords of singers Bruce Springsteen, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston; the long hair of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu; and even the automobiles used for carpools during the civil-rights boycott of Montgomery’s bus system in the 1960s.

Since it is based in England, one would expect Lloyd’s to be able to ascertain the odds of, say, a scoreless draw between soccer powers Manchester United and Arsenal. But the chances of one side in an American college football game being held scoreless?

“They base their premiums based on lots of numbers, and they are privy to just as much information as I am,” Dennis said. “Statistically, it’s a very low probability that there will be a shutout in any given game. They were basing it on history. It just didn’t go in their favor this time. There’s so many ways a team can score — look at last year, when Auburn scored on a fumble recovery in the end zone and a kickoff return.”

In its purest form, Lloyd’s underwriters were placing what sports bookmakers, both in Las vegas and in England, would call a “proposition bet” — but for much higher stakes than if they had stepped up to the betting window at Caesars Palace.

Dennis says that Lloyd’s underwriters will be on the hook for about $50,000, though it will take a few days to total everything up. One customer will get around $7,000, Dennis said, and 300 or so customers in all will get their money back. “We’re going to have a big refund party soon,” he said.

The whole promotion came about so fast, the only way Dennis could publicize it was through social media such as his Facebook page. “I didn’t have time to get it in The North Jefferson News because [Lloyd’s] didn’t give me the go-ahead until after press time,” Dennis said. “It was a last-minute thing, and the only way I had to promote it was through social media, and it took off like crazy.”

Dennis estimates that his business was up by more than 120 percent over the same period last year — “way more than enough to cover the premium,” he said.

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