COVER STAR: How Austin Ekeler Has Leveraged NFL Stardom into Building the Premier Fan Engagement Tool for Athletes and Creators

With sixty-three touchdowns in his 89 game career thus far, most people know Austin Ekeler as the star-powered running back for the Los Angeles Chargers. Prior to becoming the NFL’s leading touchdown scorer over the last two seasons, Ekeler was the product of the small-town, Eaton, Colorado, where he grew up on the family farm. The challenges of balancing intense physical labor on the farm, schoolwork, and athletics helped create his foundation of ideals that shaped the values he prioritizes not only in the NFL, but also in the business ventures he pursues. Today, when asked what has been the toughest obstacle he has had to overcome, he laughs it off by explaining how “nothing is difficult” as he continues to pursue business endeavors and maintain his status as the leading touchdown scorer in the NFL.

During his senior year at Eaton High School, Ekeler had forty-three touchdowns on his way to shattering school records. Despite these jaw-dropping statistics, Ekeler had few prospective Division 1 looks to take his game to the next level. Famously, Austin did manage to grab the attention of Colorado State University Head Coach Jim McElwain, who, during a visit to Eaton High School, spontaneously challenged Ekeler to perform a dunk on the basketball court after learning about how athletic the running-back was from Coach Bill Mondt. After successfully performing this feat, especially with Austin standing at only 5’9, Jim McElwain was immediately impressed. However, Austin ultimately ended up playing his collegiate football at nearby Division II program, Western Colorado University. While the path to the NFL is dim for a Division II undersized running-back, it was no challenge for Ekeler who had endured far more difficult tasks in the work he did on his family’s farm. 

This excitement and determination to pursue and face the next challenge is evident when Austin explains, “Learning manual labor with no excuses at such a raw stage of my life, being around all of that, it put my back against the wall,” he says. “I don’t complain, I want more and I always pushed myself to see how far I could push my mental strength to where things become hard.” The Ekeler farm spanned across eighty acres of land, where the young football star would serve as caretaker for the cattle and livestock along with ranching and building fences during the summer months.

“I find the most fulfillment in the things I am building,” Ekeler said. “To be honest, I don’t think you’ve ever ‘made it’, and if you feel that you’ve made it then it’s a problem or you’re retired,” all of this revealing where that boundless tenacity comes from.

Austin Ekeler is someone who finds his passion in building communities, particularly with his fans. Rather than indulging in short-term pleasures during his time off the field, Ekeler uses his position as an entrepreneur to connect with fans through his platform, Eksperience. The platform’s design is more interactive and personal than other fan-to-player experience models, allowing users to engage with personalized content, signed memorabilia, and a storefront full of unique items curated exclusively for the app. Ekeler aims to bring personalized connection and intimacy to digital interactions with the users’ favorite athletes and creators, which otherwise would be cold and detached. Austin’s prior work with Gridiron Gaming Group (GGG) saw success with fantasy and esports gamers; however, Eksperience takes it a step further with greater accessibility and a diverse roster of athletes and creators. Eksperience also offers an exciting new way for athletes and creators, known as “talent,” to monetize their audiences, resulting in one-of-a-kind interactions between creators and their fans. The app’s à la carte menu of experiences affords the creators 80% of the interaction price, while Eksperience assumes the remaining percentage.

For Ekeler, when we cease to add value to our lives and the lives of others, we cease to exist. Therefore, in addition to his football and entrepreneurial career, Ekeler runs the Austin Ekeler Foundation, which aims to support young leaders by providing them with the resources they need to succeed and access to more opportunities. “I experienced life from a ground-level perspective where we didn’t always have ample resources,” Ekeler said. “So now I like to use my energy to build those resources for others. The energy I put into things can be overwhelming to some people.”

A sense of belonging and shared identity runs deep in the midwest, and in a town like Eaton, whose population currently stands just shy of 6,000, winning the game really becomes a team effort.“Growing up in a small town, that culture has enhanced my humbleness of what I have today, and I definitely identify with the culture of keeping your circles small,” he said.

In the NFL, Ekeler is notorious for his contagious energy on the field and his overwhelming passion for doing everything he can to help his team win. Ekeler has immortalized his energy on the field with the air guitar riff, a trademark touchdown celebration that reflects his love of rock music. At twenty-seven years old, Ekeler remains humble and focused. His drive is indomitable and his influence extends well beyond the fences of Eaton. Today, Ekeler strives to activate the potential of others, stressing the importance of the journey rather than the end goal.

“That’s why I love football, because it really helps me practice mental toughness, and I feel like we don’t see that enough in society right now,” he said. Strengthening the psyche begins with having faith in yourself, something Ekeler learned from a young age. Balancing his chores on the family farm with schoolwork and athletics demanded relentless discipline, but Ekeler’s headspace required just as much stamina and standing power. He learned to see the champion in himself, challenging the idea of idolizing public figures. Instead, he focused on the satisfaction of personal growth and triumph he could feel in his endeavors.

Photo Credit: RJ Ibe

“I didn’t really grow up watching the NFL or mainstream television, so I wasn’t really a fan of anybody,” Ekeler said. “But I did grow up watching professional bull riding like the PBR and wanted to be like Chris Shivers!” Naturally, young Ekeler tried his hand at bull riding. After three rides, he quickly realized the animals are more enjoyable, and safer, from a distance.

Going on six years with the Chargers, Ekeler has given special attention to the fans that have stuck with him from the beginning. Ekeler places high value on community, loyalty, and quality over quantity. An avid gamer, Ekeler took to streaming platforms during the pandemic in order to stay connected with his followers. 

Austin is constantly diversifying his portfolio through authentic engagement and strengthening of those networks that spark value in his life and the lives of others. There’s no denying that Ekeler dominates on the field: however, the impact of his other ventures comes alive where community and ambition unite to write the legacy of Austin Ekeler.