Cars.com, which pulled its advertising from Penn State football broadcasts after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke last November, said Monday that it will sponsor ESPN games involving Penn State this coming season.
"Last year, we didn't feel that the environment surrounding those games was a celebration of the sport of football and we made the decision to pull our ads out of respect for those involved," Linda Bartman, Cars.com vice president of marketing, said to The Huffington Post in an email. "This year, as long as the environment continues to be positive, we'll advertise on the schedule."
The auto-shopping site was one of the more prominent advertisers to back away from Penn State over the Sandusky scandal and is perhaps the first to publicly confirm that it would resume the association.
Paint maker Sherwin-Williams likewise removed its signage from Penn State press conferences after news of Sandusky's crimes -- and the school's failure to alert police -- surfaced. The company didn't answer a HuffPost request for comment.
Cars.com's arrangement with ESPN's "Saturday Afternoon College Football" covers a package of games, some of which could include Penn State.
"Our sponsorship doesn't warrant us selecting specific games, but rather includes the full Saturday afternoon schedule," Bartman wrote. "We are once again excited to be part of the sponsorship this year, and anticipate to advertise on the full schedule that ESPN chooses."
Although Sandusky's trial ended last week with the former assistant coach convicted on 45 counts of sexually abusing young boys, the case will remain in the public eye for the foreseeable future. Sandusky's adopted son, Matt Sandusky, has alleged his father abused him; victims' civil lawsuits are likely brewing; criminal trials await former Penn State administrators accused of perjury in the matter; and an internal investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh could reveal ugly details about the school's actions as Sandusky's misdeeds became apparent, USA Today reported.
As Sandusky's trial approached this month, HuffPost contacted other Penn State football sponsors about their plans for the coming fall season. Penn State kicks off on Sept. 1.
The Mohegan Sun casino confirmed it would continue its multi-year partnership to advertise at Penn State's home field, Beaver Stadium. "There have been no changes to this agreement and there are currently no plans on adjusting this partnership," Bobby Soper, president of Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, said via email.
The local American Red Cross chapter, which has conducted blood drives on campus for more than 40 years but partnered with Penn State athletics for just the last two years, had not finalized its plans, according to a spokeswoman. Ditto for State Farm Insurance.
Other major sponsors -- including Pepsi (which just signed a new deal with the school in May), Chevrolet, PNC Financial, John Deere and team outfitter Nike -- stuck by their ad commitments after the Sandusky story broke last fall.
Marketing experts note that Penn State is not forever tainted as a brand. Karen Post, author of the book "Brand Turnaround: How Brands Gone Bad Returned to Glory ... and the 7 Game Changers That Made the Difference," said, "Time will be their best friend." Rob Frankel of the Frankel & Anderson agency said another story would eventually knock the scandal from the headlines.
But Ronn Torossian, CEO of the public relations agency 5WPR, warns advertisers not to rush the process. "What marketer who has children can go home to look at their kids and tell them about being in business with Penn State?" he asked.