MCDONALD'S PARTS WAYS WITH KOBE BRYANT

Lets Contract With Basketball Star Charged in Sex Case Expire

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- McDonald's Corp. has become the latest marketer to end ties with NBA star Kobe Bryant, who is awaiting trial in a sexual assault case.

Following the earlier defection of Ferraro of

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Italy, which makes the hazelnut spread Nutella, McDonald's allowed its three-year endorsement deal with Mr. Bryant to end Dec. 31, a company spokesman said.

"The terms of our contract expired," he said. The spokesman wouldn't discuss terms of the agreement, including whether it contained a morality clause. ESPN.com first reported the decision on Friday.

Escape clauses
Mr. Bryant is accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old girl in Colorado, charges that the Los Angeles Lakers guard denied. Although most endorsement deals include escape clauses for morality or other events, one executive with knowledge of a Bryant deal speculated that marketers would honor their contracts until the case is resolved.

"You can't really do anything until someone is convicted or cleared," the executive said.

Mr. Bryant had made four TV spots for McDonald's, the last of which aired last summer, before Mr. Bryant was charged. Since then, no other spots have appeared on air and the McDonald's spokesman said no ads were pulled or canceled since the case first made headlines.

"There was nothing in the works that was not aired," he said.

Nike deal
In June, Mr. Bryant struck a five-year deal estimated at $45 million with Nike, which reportedly has pushed back plans to launch a shoe made for Mr. Bryant, originally scheduled to debut Feb. 8 during the NBA All-Star Game. Mr. Bryant also remains under contract with equipment maker Spalding, Upper Deck trading and Coca Cola Co.

Coca-Cola's deal runs through 2005 for its Sprite brand, although advertising featuring Mr. Bryant stopped airing in July. In August, the beverage giant signed NBA rookie LeBron James to a six-year deal for its Sprite and PowerAde brands.

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