SBJ/September 17-23, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Santana exits Samsung; lawsuit over Olympic program to blame?

Ralph Santana, Samsung America’s top marketer, quietly left the company in late August.

Santana, 44, who joined Samsung Electronics America as chief marketing officer in June 2010, did not return calls to his cell phone seeking comment. He is a former SportsBusiness Journal/Daily Forty Under 40 honoree and was at Pepsi for 16 years, which included a two-year stint running the beverage giant’s sports marketing.

Santana joined Samsung Electronics as CMO in June 2010.
Photo by: SHANA WITTENWYLER
His departure follows a lawsuit filed against Samsung in April by 18 Olympians, including Mark Spitz, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Greg Louganis and Cullen Jones. The athletes alleged that the worldwide Olympic sponsor did not have permission to use their names and photos in an Olympic marketing program called the Samsung U.S. Olympic Genome Project.

The marketing initiative was the first Samsung had run around the Olympics in the U.S., and Santana had overseen its development and championed it in the press.

Samsung, with support from its sports marketing agency, Team Epic, designed a Facebook application that showed Americans across the country how they were connected to U.S. Olympians. It evaluated people’s Facebook information and used information like where people were from and where they went to school to compute their connections to athletes. For example, users who attended Brandeis University would see that fencer Tim Morehouse also attended the college, giving them a reason to root for him during the London Games.

Samsung did not plan to pay Olympians who were featured in the application despite facing questions from Olympic agents who raised concerns about the legality of featuring athletes without having formal agreements. Rather than having athletes sign a form opting to participate in the program, Samsung and the U.S. Olympic Committee provided a form for them to opt-out of the program. If they didn’t receive an opt-out form from an athlete, they featured them in the application.

As a result, athletes who had deals with Samsung competitors were featured on a Facebook application with Samsung branding.

For example, swimmer Dara Torres, who joined the lawsuit, has a deal with Hewlett-Packard but was still accessible in Samsung’s Genome Project.

Samsung and the USOC reversed course after the lawsuit was filed and provided a form asking athletes to opt into the program. The program continued through the London Games, but Samsung limited its promotion of it.

A decision in the athletes’ lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, is pending.

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