Sleaze doesn’t sell – which is why some brand owners are rethinking their current roster of sporting ambassadors. But, as Rob Brown and Charlie Wright discover, it doesn’t always pay to switch from sinners to saints

When Wayne Rooney's alleged dalliances with hookers hit the headlines, it wasn't just Coleen he was in hot water with.

The spud-faced striker was in trouble with the sponsors, too. In the aftermath of the tabloid scandal, Coca-Cola shelved plans to splash Rooney's face over cans of Coke Zero and a Tiger Beer ad in the Far East was also canned.

And Rooney is not the only sporting superstar to have found himself in the doghouse lately. Pringles' high-profile partnership with England teammate Peter Crouch is hanging in the balance after claims about the footballer's bedroom acrobatics. And the most infamous fallen angel of all, Tiger Woods, was dropped faster than the golfer's pants by Gatorade when his marital misdemeanours came to light.

With the media spotlight shining ever more brightly on the dark recesses of the stars' private lives, it's not surprising so many food and drink suppliers are reviewing their tie-ups.

Some are taking out 'disgrace insurance' that covers them against misdemeanours; others are looking to trade in their old sporting sinner for a shiny new saint; and then there are those taking the view that it's safer to sponsor an event than an individual. What they are not doing, however, is abandoning sport sponsorship for something less risky.

That's because the benefits still far outweigh the risks. Consider the flipside of the estimated $5bn to $12bn lost by shareholders of Tiger Woods-endorsed stocks over the past 12 months and, as the experts point out, nobody in their right mind is going to turn their back on sports sponsorship with the London Olympics around the corner.

Fittingly, it was a home-grown Olympian who set the blueprint for sporting brand ambassadors in the UK. Back in 1985, decathlete Daley Thompson became Lucozade's brand ambassador as the drink set out to reinvent itself as a sports aid. Free from the kind of controversy that mires many of the stars of today, and still basking in the glory of gold medal wins in the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, Thompson set the bar high.

Others who arguably achieved the same level of success include Ian Botham with Shredded Wheat and Gary Lineker, who has been peddling Leicester's favourite crisps brand for more than a decade. But they are old-school. Today's crop of brand ambassadors are a very different breed. Thanks to the internet and the mass media, they are true global superstars, whether they deserve to be or not, and that's a double-edged sword as far as the brands go.

On the one hand, says Greg Luckman, North America CEO at GroupM Entertainment & Sports Partnership, the fact that so may of them are on Facebook or Twitter is a good thing. "Social media lets celebrities become their own media distributors our clients want to tap into that".

On the other hand, it's easy for them to speak out of turn. The impact of such slip-ups on a brand is nothing, however, compared with a juicy piece of personal scandal. It's a moot point whether today's sport stars really are more badly behaved than their predecessors or not, but brands can take it as read that even the slightest speck of dirt will find its way into the public domain these days. And even seemingly safe bets can be anything but, as Gillette found to its cost. The company was still reeling from the revelations about Tiger Woods when Thierry Henry star of the Champions ad with Woods and Roger Federer handled the ball in France's World Cup qualifier with Ireland.

The recent spate of scandals has understandably made brand owners more cautious. "Companies are looking deeper at their sports and endorsement strategies," says Luckman. "The result is a buyers' market and we can implement stronger protection language in agreements around morals clauses or extended payment terms."

More brands will take out disgrace insurance, adds Joe Hale, client director at brand consultancy Dragon Rouge. "It's a complex issue to insure but brands that are investing millions into personalities clearly see it as necessary."

That doesn't necessarily mean these personalities will be given the heave-ho. Indeed, Gillette's decision not to dump Tiger outright after his indiscretions came to light but to give him 'space' is held up by many as a model of how to best deal with a disgraced celeb. Once the dust has settled, there could be scope for a fallen angel to return.

There's a lot to be said for bagging an anti-hero, a character with appeal but without the usual wholesome image. John Smith's hit the jackpot in this regard when it teamed up with darts legend Bobby George, whose no-nonsense charm has played well with trade customers.

The key is to find someone who fits the brand. "Good guys like Lionel Messi or Federer are perfect testimonials for a brand that wants to communicate a clean image," says Gareth Moore, UK director of Sport+Markt. "An endorsement with Dennis Rodman or Mike Tyson can reach a different target group, but no less important for a brand though there are limits."

In the UK, though, the ideal ambassadors tend to have a whiff of boy or girl next door appeal and are adored by the public whatever they do in private.

Take David Beckham. The footballer is no stranger to scandal on and off the pitch, but somehow remains Golden Balls. Ditto England football team deputy captain Steven Gerrard. Nightclub fisticuffs and rumours about his private life were not enough for Lucozade to give him the boot earlier this year. He was one of the few England players to return from South Africa with any credit although, accepts Lucozade Sport brand manager Alex Saunders, "of course, there are risks in associating with any individual, including footballers".

Cricketers are another bunch who can get away with a less than spotless private life sometimes, anyway. Having backed Sky's World Twenty20 coverage and England's domestic T20 competition and recruited Mark Ramprakash as brand ambassador (a player who famously cheated on his wife before going on to win Strictly Come Dancing), AG Barr-owned exotic fruit juice Rubicon is on the hunt for a younger player to lend some weight to the brand.

Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad are hot tips for the post but fans' favourite Graeme Swann looks to have fallen out of the running after he was charged with drink driving this summer. Sleeping around is one thing, it seems; drink driving quite another.

For those intent on bagging a more global sporting brand ambassador, the 2012 Olympics will provide plenty of opportunities.

Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, is arguably the most in-demand at present. But such clout comes at a cost. "Usain was absolutely fantastic to work with and has real star quality, but his fees are not for everyone," says Sheldon, who helped set up Bolt's Gatorade tie-up.

Team GB may prove more fertile ground for more UK centric-sponsorships. As well as commanding lower price tags because of their relatively low profiles, many of Britain's hottest medal prospects are also pleasingly clean-cut. Sir Chris Hoy is a case in point. The cycling star, who was snapped up by Kellogg's to promote Bran Flakes following his gold medal haul in Beijing, has certainly been a better choice than former ambassador Michael Phelps, dropped after photos of the swimmer smoking cannabis were published.

"Hoy is a proven success and has not blotted his copybook in his private life he epitomises the brand's healthy positioning," says Karen Earl of Synergy Sponsorship.

He's not the only 2008 Olympics champion likely to be on brands' wish lists. Fellow cyclist Victoria Pendleton already commands major deals with Hovis and Gatorade and has just the photogenic appeal they're looking for. Heptathlete Jessica Ennis is another deemed "super hot" by one marketing expert who expects her to strike gold in terms of medals and sponsorships in 2012. As, predict others, will teenage diving champion Tom Daley.

The success of such tie-ups won't just depend on the nation's medals haul. Lucozade's relationship with Thompson worked because of the athlete's personality as well as his sporting achievements and spotless private life. Other brands won't be so lucky. For every Thompson, Botham and Lineker there's a Rooney, Woods or Henry. Just don't write the bad boys off yet.

"Some indiscretions can pass with a prevailing wind and some can stick," says Hale. "Now Tiger Woods can turn his attention to winning golf competitions his 'brand' represents a challenger rather than an arrogant leader."

And everyone loves an underdog.

Fallen angels...
Tiger Woods
World's greatest-ever golfer is world's worst-ever husband. Now he's not even golf's number-one. Could make it up with the ladies with a stint of housework
Suggested partner: Shake'n'Vac
Devil rating: five horns

Wayne Rooney
Dismal World Cup, has annoyed both halves of Manchester and now on thin ice with Coleen due to an alleged penchant for any female company that isn't his wife's
Suggested partner: Durex
Devil rating: three horns

Peter Crouch

Spindle-limbed robot-dancer seemed the only professional footballer who was also a genuinely nice guy. Then tabloid exposés suggested he was up to no good
Suggested partner: Weight Gain Powder
Devil rating: two horns

Graeme Swann
Cricketing Twitter king beloved of fans but distinctly off-message off-field. Explained drink-driving incident with bizarre anecdote about a cat under his floorboards.
Suggested partner: Whiskas
Devil rating: one horn

Mike Tyson
Ultimate boxing bad boy was jailed for rape and bit off Holyfield's ear. He might be knocking on a bit, but he's never more than a tax bill away from a return to the ring.
Suggested partner: Fixodent
Devil rating: five horns

Heaven sent...
Usain Bolt
Charismatic freak of nature breaks records for speed and earning potential. Has a range of Gatorade named after him and is famed for love of chicken nuggets.
Suggested partner: Birds Eye
Angel rating: five halos

Stuart Broad
Flaxen-haired pin-up with combustible temperament is set for key role in Ashes. His Godlike physique is best proof yet that eating greens is good for you.
Suggested partner: Green Giant
Angel rating: two halos 

Jessica Ennis
Currently sweating for Powerade Zero, Ennis is photogenic and the best heptathlete in the world - like Paula Radcliffe with medals or a feminine Kelly Holmes.
Suggested partner: Sure For Women
Angel rating: four halos

Sir Chris Hoy
Cycling knight has one more lap of the gods left in him before the young whippersnappers take over. But he's bound to be saddle-sore by the end of 2012.
Suggested partner: Vaseline
Angel rating: four halos

Tom Daley
High-diving manchild Daley recently told The Guardian: "I do go to parties and stuff like that. I just only drink Coke or orange juice." A safer bet, for now at least.
Suggested partner: Clearasil
Angel rating: four halos