Coca-Cola has scrapped plans to feature Wayne Rooney’s face on the side of millions of cans after its bosses in America branded him ‘disgusting’ for allegedly sleeping with prostitutes while his wife was pregnant.
The image of the 24-year-old Manchester United and England footballer, who earns £600,000 a year in sponsorship from the soft-drinks giant, was set to appear on cans and bottles of Coke Zero in a multi-million-pound ad campaign to run from now until 2011.
But sources in America say company bosses there want to drop Rooney’s sponsorship deal completely because they are concerned that lurid stories about his private life do not tie in with Coca-Cola’s wholesome family image.
The £100,000-a-week striker became embroiled in a tawdry scandal last month after prostitute Jennifer Thompson claimed she had enjoyed three-in-a-bed sex sessions with Rooney while his wife Coleen was five months pregnant with their son Kai, who turns one next month.
Another prostitute, Helen Wood, later confirmed the report and asked for Coleen’s forgiveness.
Rooney, who was initially said to have been ‘nonchalant’ over the future of his two-year marriage, later reportedly begged Coleen to give him a second chance.
The couple are now said to be having marriage counseling in an attempt to repair their relationship – and protect ‘Brand Rooney’. But a US source said executives at Coca-Cola’s Atlanta head-quarters were so ‘appalled’ by his behavior that they scrapped plans to feature him on the Coke Zero cans.
The drink is marketed as a ‘Bloke Coke’ with no sugar and zero calories. The source said: ‘The executives at head office in Atlanta wanted to drop him straight away. They were bewildered by the stories and found reports of his conduct disgusting.
‘There have been other stories about him cavorting with prostitutes and he was even photographed urinating against a wall in the summer. This is not something the American executives in Atlanta found acceptable at all.
‘Coca-Cola is a family-friendly company and Wayne Rooney was brought on board to appeal to young people, specifically young men and teenage boys.
‘The executives in Atlanta wanted to dump him immediately but his representatives and the executives of Coca-Cola in London begged them to reconsider. In the end, they changed their whole campaign for Coke Zero, which must have cost a fortune. Wayne’s face was going to be on the side of every can and bottle but now it will not be.
Last night a spokesman for Coca-Cola in London confirmed: ‘Last month we amended our marketing plans on Coke Zero. Given the situation at that time we did not feel it was appropriate to run an on-pack promotion featuring Wayne Rooney.
‘Our relationship with Wayne Rooney is ongoing. We are currently working with Wayne on Coke Zero Street Striker – an award-winning programme which, over the past three years, has encouraged thousands of young people to get involved in football.’
Rooney’s Street Striker series is a Sky1 reality show where amateur football hopefuls compete for a place at a Brazilian football training camp.
When asked if Coca-Cola planned to ditch Rooney’s sponsorship deal completely, the spokesman said: ‘We are working on our marketing plans for 2011 and have no announcements to make at this time.’
Rooney makes more than £2.5 million a year from his four key sponsors: Nike, publisher HarperCollins, video-game manufacturer EA Sports and Coca-Cola.
The source continued: ‘If Coke drops him it could be the start of other corporations walking away. American executives cannot understand the laddish culture that surrounds football.
‘A lot of Rooney’s products are family-orientated and this move by Coca-Cola does not bode well for him.’
A spokesman for Wayne Rooney said: ‘Wayne remains contracted to Coca Cola and is currently in the middle of filming his third series of Street Striker as part of the Coke Zero endorsement.
‘The decision not to use his face on the cans has no bearing on his contract or on his current status as Coca-Cola UK’s leading football ambassador.’