COKE SIGNS LEBRON JAMES FOR SPRITE PROMOTION

Brand Previously Promoted by Kobe Bryant

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Coca-Cola Co. has signed NBA rookie LeBron James to a six-year deal to promote sport-drink Powerade and Sprite, the lemon-lime soda brand
Photo: AP
Teen star LeBron James has been signed by Coca-Cola to pitch Powerade and Sprite.
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previously hawked by beleaguered basketball star Kobe Bryant.

Signing 'unrelated' to Kobe
A Coca-Cola Co. spokesman said the signing of Mr. James, a teenage phenom who is skipping college to play in the pros, was "unrelated to Kobe Bryant's situation." Mr. Bryant has been charged with the sexual assault of a 19-year-old girl in Colorado.

Financial terms of the deal with Mr. James were not disclosed.

Coca-Cola has stopped running ads that featured Mr. Bryant in Sprite's "Obey Your Thirst" campaign, but it has not severed its contract with the Los Angeles Lakers star. The marketer said Mr. Bryant remains under contract until 2005.

Other contracts
Mr. Bryant also remains under contract to Nike Inc., McDonald's Corp., equipment-maker Spalding and Upper Deck trading cards. So far, only one marketer, Nutella sandwich spread, a division of Italy-based Ferraro Co., has cut ties to Mr. Bryant.

WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, handles the $43 million Sprite account, but Coca-Cola last month invited at least four independent agencies -- Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.; Modernista!, Boston; WongDoody, Seattle; and DiNoto, New York -- to pitch ideas.

Coca-Cola said in a release that Mr. James "will serve as a key spokesperson for the 'Obey Your Thirst' lifestyle."

Gatorade declines
The deal with Mr. James for Powerade comes less than a week after negotiations between his agents and Gatorade broke down. Mr. James was reportedly seeking $2 million a year to endorse Gatorade, a division of PepsiCo's Quaker Foods and Beverages division. Gatorade has baseball star Derek Jeter, football's Peyton Manning, basketball's Yao Ming and Vince Carter, and U.S. soccer star Mia Hamm on its endorsement roster, none of whom make more than $2 million a year from the company.

Gatorade is far and away the leader in sports drinks, with about 80% of the market share, but Coke's signing of Mr. James represents somewhat of a coup over Pepsi, traditionally the brand with more youthful endorsers.

"LeBron James has brought more excitement and anticipation to the game of basketball than any player in recent history, and we think he's just getting started," Jeff Dunn, president of Coca-Cola North America, said in a statement.

$90 million from Nike
Mr. James has already signed a $90 million deal with Nike and a $6 million contract with Upper Deck. He was the NBA's No.1 draft pick in June, and the Cleveland Cavaliers signed him to a $12.96 million contract.

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