A collective groan went out among the city's indie cliques a few months ago when it was announced that the celebration of indie music and culture known as the Capitol Hill Block Party had sold off its naming rights and would be referred to by all parties this year as the Esurance Capitol Hill Block Party.
"The Esurance Capitol Hill Block Party provides a unique atmosphere to interact and forge relationships with Seattle's young, active and music-centric audience," says the Stranger, one of the fest's sponsors, in a marketing pitch for more sponsors.
So who is this Esurance, and what do they want with Seattle's young, active, and music-centric audience?
Best known for the sexualized, secret-agent, cartoon mascot in its advertising, Esurance is a subsidiary of White Mountains Insurance Group, a Bermuda-based holding company. White Mountains' two biggest individual shareholders are CEO Raymond Barrette and former CEO Jack Byrne, who've put their profits to uses that not all Block Party participants will find entirely rad.
Barrette has been a steady contributor to George W. Bush and the Republican National Committee, while Jack Byrne (together with his son Patrick, a dot-com entrepreneur) spent $1 million during the last election to attack the Kerry-Edwards ticket. Patrick, who retired from the White Mountains board a few years ago—and, at last report, still owned a significant share of the company—also helped fund the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Esurance has also bought top-of-the-marquee naming rights to a San Francisco fest called ICER AIR—a "unique and outrageous" snowboarding and skiing competition held inside a baseball stadium. Why is the company so eager for the attention of young, "extreme"-oriented, indie-rock-worshipping young men? Aren't they the worst sort of risk for an auto insurer?
"In the insurance business, as long as a risk is accurately priced (accurately reflecting the propensity to get into an accident and related costs), you can write that risk," explains Esurance spokesperson Kristin Brewe. That's for sure. All things being equal, single men in their 20s will be charged anywhere from 30 percent to 120 percent more for their collision coverage than old married farts in their 40s, according to Esurance's filings with the state. Rock on.