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2012 Olympics give Samsung a window on European market

By Avril Ormsby

LONDON (Reuters) - The view from Samsung's office in east London spans the 2012 Olympic Park, but the head of sports marketing at the South Korean company could be forgiven for also having an eye on the 2018 Games on home soil.

The winter Olympics that year will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and there is a certain amount of national and corporate pride at stake.

Samsung's current sponsorship deal with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) runs out in 2016, so Samsung is "reviewing" its options but suggested it would be involved in some form in 2018.

"(It is) a company's responsibility to have good corporate citizenship in Korea," Sunny Hwang, Samsung's vice president and head of global sports marketing, told Reuters.

"So it is our responsibility to support those Games, for them to be successful."

Pyeongchang is unlikely to give Samsung Electronics, a global leader in telecommunications technology, a big marketing push in its own backyard - but other Olympics have.

One of the world's largest producers of mobile phones in the world, Samsung said its market share in China doubled after the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Even London 2012, a relatively saturated market, will help Samsung increase brand awareness and sales not only in Britain but also Europe.

"This is not only for London, for the UK, but a European festival for us," Hwang said, dressed in a cream jacket and open-necked shirt.

"Of course, the UK market is saturated, but it is a very big market, there is lots of room for us still for the mobile market, for others. Every market has a replacement demand."

TORCH RELAY "TANGIBLE"

Samsung began its Olympic journey as a domestic sponsor in 1988 when Seoul was the host city, before it became a worldwide partner in 1998 for the Nagano winter Olympics in Japan.

In 2004, it also began sponsoring the Olympic torch relay.

However, demonstrations by advocates of Tibetan independence and protests against China's human rights record caused mayhem during the 2008 torch relay, especially in London and Paris.

The problems were part of the reason why this year's relay was drastically curtailed to include just Britain and Ireland.

Hwang was disappointed, preferring a global route, but said Samsung was looking to invite about half its 1,360 allocation of torchbearers from abroad. Hwang himself will run a leg.

To avoid the same disruption, Samsung has been working with an external consultant on "a robust security operation."

Police, who say there is no intelligence of any specific threat to the relay, are planning to provide a team of 28 police officers to provide round-the-clock protection for the flame and its torchbearers during the 70-day trip around Britain before the opening ceremony on July 27.

In the corner of the sparsely decorated Samsung Olympic office was an empty showcase where the torch will sit.

Gold-colored and consisting of 8,000 holes, one for each of the torchbearers, the triangular-shaped aluminum torch has been likened to a huge cheesegrater.

"The torch relay allows locals to feel closer and more connected to the Games," Hwang said.

"It's more tangible. The Olympics (in contrast) is very much a global event."

He would not give a figure on the cost of either sponsorship, but said brand awareness was an important part of people's thinking when buying a product.

Its brand value has increased to $19.5 billion in 2010 from $10.85 billion in 2003, Samsung said.

"What we are seeking through Olympic sponsorship is not just immediate return but long-term returns in increased awareness and brand preference because we believe the purchasing decision from our customers is on average 50 percent brand awareness and the other is from feature design," Hwang added.

(Editing by Mark Meadows)

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