Pop quiz: Why are these brands sports fans?

What do these brands have in common: EMC, JNC Phillips Auto Glass, Houghton Mifflin, Arbella Insurance, Adidas, and Sal's Pizza?

If you said this group sponsors the Celtics, you'd be right - but you probably also work for the Celtics' corporate sales group.

How do sports teams like the Celtics acquire such a diverse group of sponsors? And what do sponsors expect to get in return for their association with the local sports team?

We continue to speak with a number of these sponsors. Their motivations range from the simple; "our CEO is a hoops fan", to the more thoughtful; "we know that sports are the only must-see live event on TV."

The more thoughtful sports marketers and corporate sales teams out there are starting to use partners like Activate Sports, Repucom, and Octagon to measure the value of team sponsorships and athlete endorsements. These firms use analysts to couple together impressions from venue signage, TV ads, and Web properties to provide a more complete measurement of sponsorship value. Data sources like Nielsen, Cisco, and Google provide a good baseline for sponsorship analytics.

Increasingly, social media impressions and fan engagement are playing a role in determining sponsorship value. The concept of "proof-of-play" doesn't really exist on social media since the proof is in the way fans share and engage with content. There are now companies like MVP Index that specialize in helping brands add this social data to their mix.

Mark Burns, a writer for Forbes.com, just published a great article that shows the evolution of sports on Twitter. Over the past 10 years, there have been athlete tweets, fan media sharing, and most recently live viewing experiences. Twitter (like Facebook and Snapchat) continue to add sports fan features. Burns article reminds us of a powerful stat from Nielsen:

Twitter has cemented its position across the entire sports industry. According to Nielsen’s recent 2015 Sports Media Report, sports events accounted for close to 50% of all Twitter TV conversations. Given that sports accounts for just 1% of all TV programming, it’s a profound statistic which highlights sports influence on the social channel.

It's still so early in the evolution of sports on social media. Most social platforms are looking to replicate the TV viewing experience online. Yet fans are consuming content and data differently -- meaning continuously. The social sports conversation isn't confined by the live event. Before the game and after the game (even after the season), social media engagement continues to offer ways for sponsors to build their connection with fans. The smart marketers will demand teams find clever ways to integrate their brands into those conversations so their sponsorship season never ends. The smartest marketers will drive that brand alignment and content integration themselves and of course, measure and optimize it all.