Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler watches a lot of YouTube.
“I subscribe to six or seven channels and find myself watching it instead of TV or movies,” said the 23-year-old, who signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2017. “It’s a younger generation thing, YouTube is a big platform, and there’s a lot of good content to figure out how to do anything.”
Ekeler said he’s used YouTube to do everything from learn how to change a tire to educate himself about personal finance and the stock market. He’d also watched people work out. A self-described gym rat, occasionally recorded his own workouts, too, in an effort to watch himself improve and learn.
Eventually, something clicked. Why can’t I do that? Now, Ekeler is devoting his offseason to building his brand via making a YouTube channel out of his workout routines.
“It was a no-brainer,” he said. “I just started posting them for fun, I’m not trying to make money, it’s just something for me.”
That doesn’t mean he can’t try to draw an audience, though. The channel isn’t large by any means and boasted fewer than 300 subscribers prior to being shared last week by the NFL’s Instagram account. For now, Ekeler says, that’s a start.
“It’s building a brand,” he added, before noting he may try to actively grow the site down the road if he believes it provides revenue potential. “It’s amazing, people can get behind the scenes and find out who you are and not just playing on Sundays and in interviews.”
According to David Artzi, founder of DA Athlete Marketing, which handles Ekeler’s marketing efforts, it’s a strategy in line with where brand-building is going in a time when younger generations and their shifting consumer habits begin to play a greater role in an athlete’s fanbase. Artzi believes it’s more important than ever for athletes to establish themselves as their own brand and connect with fans on a more personal level if they aspire to grow off-the-field income sources.
“There’s a misconception with athletes I’ve worked with before that, just because they’re in the league, they’re entitled to getting partnerships and sponsors,” Artzi said. “They need to build their own brands. And with guys like Austin, they’re finding more creative ways to build their brands off the field.”
"Your social presence can make a difference in your career and the image that you promote while you're playing and when you're done."@joshmartin95 shares his advice to help rookies establish their brand beyond football.
— Front Office Sports (@frntofficesport) April 5, 2019
For Ekeler, perhaps the easiest part is that it’s not forced. YouTube was an obvious extension of his own consumer habits, as well as a natural platform considering he was already recording his workouts and occasionally posting them to Instagram. He believes the organic nature of the content plays a major role in his desire to create it.
“YouTube is something you can’t force,” Ekeler said. “It has to be something you can put up with. It’s like if a rock star writes a song — they better like it because they’ll be playing it for 20 years.
“You can’t be dreading the content.”
That authenticity can also be a valuable audience growth tool when it does come time to grow the product. Gen Z and younger audiences are more likely to relate to athletes on a personal level as well as trust the more implicitly. To that end, they desire a more genuine connection to brand incorporation, too.
Artzi believes a natural next step would be to leverage Ekeler’s passion by organically including a brand within future videos.
It’s just one way to grow the channel, which Ekeler expects to continue into next offseason. Another could be to hire a video editor, which would both save himself time as well as facilitate a more consistent style between episodes. Stretching the channel beyond workout videos also isn’t out of the question, perhaps through a vlog to further allow fans into his life.
No matter the trajectory, though, don’t expect Ekeler to stop using YouTube in his daily life any time soon. After all, flat tires don’t fix themselves.