For teens and Millennials, it all comes down to connection. So, how are the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and key sponsors like Coca-Cola getting – and keeping – young fans interested in the Games? Through a combination of smart, social media-driven marketing and inclusive experiences.

On Aug. 21 – just after closing ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro – the IOC will launch the Olympic Channel to engage young people, core fans and new generations in the Olympic Movement and provide continuous exposure to athletes and sports – especially in the two-year gap between the summer and winter Olympic Games.

Olympic Channel logo

The digital media platform, a key output of the IOC's youth-focused Olympic Agenda 2020, will be loaded with original programming including live-streamed events and on-demand content focused on Olympians, their training, and the human stories behind the Games. As part of the Olympic Channel network, fans around the world can access content year-round online and on a mobile app, as well as on social media. Content will be offered in English and subtitled in nine languages.

Influencers Rio

The network also will showcase non-Olympic sports to help preserve interest in the brand, which is increasingly vulnerable to e-Sports gaming, virtual reality and other digital entertainment formats. And the IOC, in an effort to break through to a younger fanbase, added skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing to the program for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

"Sports for young people is part of entertainment, an alternative recreational time," Olympic TV Chief Yiannis Exarchos told Reuters. "If we start losing the young generation, it will not be lost to other sports, but to other recreational activities."

Simpson Torch Relay Rio

Coca-Cola – the longest-running continuous sponsor of the Olympic Games – is doing its part to recruit the next generation of consumers and fans. The company again presented the Olympic Torch Relay this year, tapping 2,000 torchbearers to carry the flame.

“We selected young people who are active in their community to carry or be active in the relay,” said Thierry Borra, director of Olympic Games management at Coca-Cola. “They created relevant content to share through social media and build connections.”

The Olympic flame reached the most remote and diverse corners of Brazil, covering 320 cities over 95 days. The torch travelled in many unconventional ways—hot-air balloon, zip-line, hang glider, standup paddleboard, donkey and steam train. Tour stops took on a party or local holiday vibe with music and dancing. Coca-Cola Brazil distributed souvenirs and beverages, and fans took pictures with the Olympic Torch. In cities where the crew took breaks while waiting for the arrival of the torch, DJs entertained the crowds.

Keeping in mind that today's youth want to be active participants, not spectators, Coca-Cola also created Parada Coca-Cola (Coca-Cola Station)—a teen hangout in a converted warehouse in downtown Rio’s hip Praca Maua district.

“We have a dedicated space for a mixed experience,” said Borra. “You can watch the events on large screens, feel the artifacts of the Olympics—the torch and medals—take photos, and shop at the largest pop-up Coca-Cola shop in Latin America. At night there will be music, and we'll bring in athletes and influencers. It will be a mix of sports and pop culture. And, of course, this experience will be shared through social media to Brazil and the world.”

Parada Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola also has tapped into a select group of global social media influencers to bring the Olympic Games to teens and Millennials. Australian stars Cody and Alli Simpson, Canadian actress and fashion model Allie Evans, British YouTuber Jake Boys and Brazilian social media personality Lucas Rangel are creating and amplifying social content tied to Coke's #ThatsGold campaign. These influencers are sharing in real time what “gold” means to them and encouraging their followers to join.

“Today's youth are even more interested in what is going on behind the screen than what’s on the screen,” said Danica Kombol, president of Everywhere Agency, a social media marketing firm. “If you can give then the behind-the-screen experience, you can win the audience.”