A Chicago jury last year awarded Michael Jordan $9 million after grocery chain Dominick’s used his likeness to hawk steaks. Now another world-famous athlete will look to Chicago to get paid for what is being called an uncompensated endorsement.
Soccer icon Pelé has sued Samsung in federal court in Chicago, claiming the electronics giant used a look-alike in a full-page ad for high-definition televisions that appeared in the New York Times.
Pelé, or rather a company that licenses the soccer star’s image, has hired the same Chicago firm that represented Jordan. The lawsuit picked the federal court in Chicago as the venue, though the ad appeared in Times editions across the U.S., and Pele is a Brazilian citizen suing a South Korean corporation.
“The goal is to obtain fair compensation for the unauthorized use of Pele’s identity and to prevent future unauthorized uses,” said attorney Fredrick Sperling, who also represented Jordan in his 2015 trial.
The 2015 ad at the heart of lawsuit shows part of the smiling face of an older, black man “who very closely resembles Pelé” beside an image of Samsung television screen, on which a soccer player is seen “making a modified bicycle or scissors-kick, perfected and famously used by Pelé.”
Few athletes in the world have Jordan’s global appeal, but the 75-year-old Pelé, is considered by many the greatest soccer player ever to play the world’s most popular sport. The Brazil native, whose full name is Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, was named Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee in 1999. He holds the international record for most goals scored in a career, though he is now nearly 40 years removed from his last professional match.
Still, Pelé raked in $25 million from endorsements in 2014, when Brazil hosted the soccer’s World Cup, according Bloomberg Business. One sponsor that year sold a $19,000 watch with an image of Pelé making a bicycle kick. The value of Pelé’s good name might rise still higher this year, when Rio De Janiero hosts the Olympic Games, and his life story is made into a movie by Ron Howard’s film company.
Samsung apparently felt there was value to Pelé’s endorsement: the lawsuit notes that two years before the ad featuring the purported look-alike Pelé was published, Samsung had engaged in negotiations with Pelé over a plan to hire the soccer star to endorse Samsung products, but the company pulled out “at the last minute.”
In Jordan’s case, Dominick’s and parent company Safeway used Jordan’s full name and jersey number in a 2009 ad published in Sports Illustrated that commemorated Jordan’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Jordan ad featured a more overt reference than in Pelé’s look-alike claim, said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist who testified at Jordan’s trial.
And more important to how much Pelé might get in damages is a calculation of how much he typically received from endorsement deals, Zimbalist said.
“I don’t think there’s anybody out there who can command the same level of payment as Jordan,” Zimbalist said. “He’s in a class by himself.”
Samsung representatives did not respond to requests for comment Monday from the Chicago Sun-Times.