Austin Ekeler became a household name—especially to fantasy football enthusiasts—during the 2019 NFL season as Los Angeles Chargers starting running back Melvin Gordon continued his holdout in the hopes of securing a new contract.
Even after Gordon made his season debut in Week 5 against the Denver Broncos, Ekeler continued his standout play, finishing the campaign with 557 rushing yards and three touchdowns to go with 92 receptions for 993 yards and a team-leading eight receiving TDs.
Having helped guide countless fantasy teams to championships that season and since, Ekeler is connecting to the fantasy football community on an even deeper level this season through a first-of-its-kind partnership with Yahoo Sports. The running back will star in weekly fantasy video segments titled “Ekeler’s Edge” beginning September 8 and airing every Wednesday throughout the season, and will host live conversations to answer fans’ questions while offering a unique perspective to the fantasy community.
“I’m very passionate about connecting with my community whether it’s through Twitch streams, my foundation or Gridiron Gaming Group,” Ekeler said. “I like to give back because it’s the community that’s made the platform so big—I’m talking about the NFL platform—that’s allowed me to have the lifestyle I have today, and it’s like my way of saying ‘Thank you.’ I owe a lot of that platform and the size of it to the fantasy football people too, so I wanted to give love to the fantasy football people as well.
“Through Yahoo Sports we were able to create some content where we can interact and answer questions from people and also give my insight into where you should draft me on your team.”
While Ekeler won’t be coming out with his own “Love or Hate” list each week, alongside fantasy football analyst Liz Loza, he will be providing situational analysis and insight regarding players, teams and matchups from his first-hand experience and knowledge to help fantasy team owners select their optimal lineups. The new programming will co-stream across Yahoo Sports and its social platforms as well as Ekeler’s channels, including his popular Twitch channel.
In addition to the season-long partnership with Ekeler, Yahoo Sports announced a series of new initiatives to further the fantasy football experience including the first-ever Yahoo Fantasy Football Championship, a competition combining the digital and physical experience at the MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino in Maryland. Yahoo Sports will also launch “Yahoo Sportsbook Live” on its Fantasy Football Live, designed to help football fans make real-time bets during halftime at 2:30 p.m. ET every Sunday this season.
“Yahoo Sports has been driving innovation around fantasy sports since the beginning, providing something for all of our sports fans,” said Joanna Lambert, head of consumer at Verizon Media. “With Austin’s passion for fantasy and his knowledge on the field as well as his huge fan base, together we are creating engaging fun experiences, helping bring our fans closer to the action.”
For Ekeler, the partnership with Yahoo is a win-win, giving him the opportunity to have more of a direct relationship and connection with fans, while also helping spread awareness of the athletes underneath the helmets and pads including himself as well as the sport and NFL overall.
An estimated 60 million people across North America play fantasy sports with more than 40 million playing fantasy football. The entire industry is worth approximately $7.2 billion.
“(Fantasy football) takes the helmet off of you,” he said. “The biggest problem for marketing us as players is we have all this gear on and people don’t know what we look like as opposed to basketball where there’s five people on the court for each team, so it’s easier to market those players. For us wearing all this gear and with 22 players on the field, you know (jersey) numbers, but fantasy kind of takes that away. You see me smiling there on your fantasy team, I’m scoring points for you, and you’re watching me on the Chargers play, so it allows people to get more awareness of different teams and situations that teams are in because you have to do your research.
“It allows people to have a more direct impact as far as what they’re trying to look for in the NFL as opposed to if they were just a fan watching on TV because they kind of immerse themselves into that player’s situation before they draft them to their team. It’s a healthy interaction that’s created through fantasy football.”