NFL star promoting Indy 500, helping engage new fans

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler has never watched an IndyCar race, but he is working with Conor Daly to help promote this Sunday’s Indy 500.

Multiple racing series have attracted a lot of new fans, including high-profile athletes from other major sports, in recent years, and IndyCar has been no exception to that.

Los Angeles Chargers star running back Austin Ekeler isn’t one of those new IndyCar fans quite yet, but that is set to change in the near future when he watches his first Indy 500.

Ekeler, the co-founder of Gridiron Gaming Group (GGG), is working with GGG team member Conor Daly, who qualified 19th for this year’s running of the Indy 500 in his #47 Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, to help promote the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”.

This evening at 8:00 p.m. ET, the Gridiron Gaming Group is presenting the Indy Racing Event, providing fans with a unique opportunity to interact, play games and win giveaways ahead of Daly’s eighth career start in the 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in Speedway, Indiana.

We had the chance to speak with Ekeler about his group and what it’s been like working with Daly leading up to this weekend.

“I came up with the Gridiron Gaming Group actually right before the pandemic started in March, I guess right before it got really bad,” Ekeler told Beyond the Flag.

“I was in a situation where I had been streaming and connecting with my community because everything was starting to close down, and I really saw a lot of benefits from that by being able to interact with community members a little bit further than just social media and actually taking it to the streaming platform and being able to actually converse with people and answer questions. That’s where GGG started, to help other athletes and influencers just build and connect with their fans in different ways.”

In addition to Ekeler and Daly, this group includes Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams and defensive tackle Justin Jones, Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox and running back Boston Scott, Las Vegas Raiders long snapper Trent Sieg, New York Jets defensive end Bryce Huff, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy Kahnle and Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray.

“We have a pretty diverse group,” Ekeler said. “We’re just trying to venture outside of just athletes, too. We’re trying to get into some of the gaming space as well.”

The group has hosted hosted two major team-wide streaming events, the Big Game Streamer Event on Super Bowl Sunday, and the Draft Event on the opening night of the NFL Draft. Both events generated more than 400,000 viewers, with the Super Bowl event drawing over 700,000, which speaks to the potential of the group when it comes to potentially drawing in new IndyCar fans.

Ekeler has seen the value of such virtual events in terms of growing the fanbase for the real-life competition.

“I would say, for me, I’m not big into gaming, I’m big into community interaction,” he admitted. “A lot of my streams are really just chatting about four things that I’m really big on, and that’s mental health, physical health, motivation and social life.

“So I’ll do a live talk for a little and then I’ll play some games with the kids once in a while so we can continue to just create that bond. It’s usually just games that everyone can get involved in, too. But yea, it certainly helps because we do talk about football. Especially during football season, I get a lot of football fans that are coming over.

“And that’s just the reason I’m actually doing the stream tonight, that’s the reason I want to help people like Conor Daly get to this space and really just be themselves outside of their sport and show people who they are — and show that you know who I am as a person and what I like besides playing football.”

Ekeler has worked with Daly before, but never for an actual event like tonight’s Indy Racing Event.

“This is our first time doing an actual event with Conor,” he said. “We worked with him in the past as far as helping him set up the Twitch. We recruited him and we have been working with him as far as promoting his channel, but this is the first time we’re officially doing an event, so I’m really excited to have him in the spotlight today. He’s going to do a great job, just from his personality.”

Suffice it to say that IndyCar fans who are familiar with Daly know exactly what Ekeler is talking about as far as his personality is concerned. But even non-IndyCar fans may want to tune into this event tonight, specifically because of the upcoming race on Sunday.

Ekeler himself has never followed IndyCar until now, but he plans to change that.

“I have not followed IndyCar at all, so I know it’s going to be a great learning experience and a great type of entertainment tonight, and educational, just to get kind of the details of how he got into it, how he’s had success, what it takes to be an IndyCar driver and persevere in that,” he said.

He won’t be among the 135,000+ fans in attendance for this year’s reduced-capacity Indy 500, but he does plan to watch the race for the first time and cheer on the driver of the #47 Chevrolet.

“I won’t be there, but I’ll definitely be watching, rooting on Conor obviously; gotta represent the GGG members out there.”

We asked Ekeler what advice he would give to someone else in his position who may be interesting in watching a race for the first time, specifically if that race happens to be Sunday’s Indy 500.

“This will be the first race that I’ve watched,” he admitted. “So I would need that advice from you to help me give to someone else!”

He discussed how he is keeping an open mind heading into the event and simply trying to learn as much about the sport as possible ahead of the race on Sunday.

“I’ll hopefully be asking Conor a bunch of questions like ‘What should I be watching in the race? What things are key to watch? When do you have to pit stop? How do you know that you have to?’ Just things like general questions. So it will be a fun event for people that are into IndyCar to hear from someone who’s in it, and for people who are not, maybe just getting into it, and they can get educated like I will be.”

NBC is set to broadcast the 105th running of the Indy 500 live from Indianapolis Motor Speedway this Sunday, May 30 beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET. But first, don’t miss the Gridiron Gaming Group’s Indy Racing Event on Daly’s Twitch channel with Ekeler and Daly this evening at 8:00 p.m. ET.