Ask Eric Winston about the state of sports broadcasting and the Houston Texans right tackle doesn't hesitate. "It's the same old commentary," Winston tells CultureMap. "It's kind of boring. It's tiring really. I think a lot of people are sick of hearing the same things every single game and they're looking for something else."
Winston is hardly the first athlete to rail against the voices calling sports. But Winston isn't just a big man mouthing off. He's doing something about it, attacking the problem with the same focus he displays in protecting Matt Schaub or opening up holes for Arian Foster (or in the case of Sunday's season opener against the Colts, Derrick Ward and Ben Tate).
The Texans' unconventional offensive lineman has a plan. So the day after Houston opens a season of supersized promise at Reliant Stadium, Winston will launch a new online sports TV network dubbed THEBUS (pronounced Thee-bis). The network's first offering — Not Your Ordinary Sports Show — will live stream during every Monday Night Football game, offering a running conversation about everything from the game to current events to who knows what between an eclectic cast of guests and Winston.
The idea is for people to turn on the game, turn off the sound and pull up the broadcast of Not Your Ordinary Sports Show on a computer or smartphone, and listen to Winston and his high-profile Houston guests (former Olympic gold medal speed skater Chad Hedrick, outspoken PGA Tour veteran Steve Elkington and astronaut Scott Kelly are the guests for the first show Monday night) as they watch the game and get into it. (CultureMap Houston will show Not Your Ordinary Sports Show in the video module on its front page every Monday night, but the company does not have a financial stake in the show or Winston's new network).
And you thought athletes tweeting was a big deal? How about starting a sports TV network while still playing?
"Eric is probably interested in things that the average NFL player isn't," Kelly, the twin brother of Mark Kelly, Gabrielle Giffords' astronaut husband, says, laughing. "I think that's a lot of this. He's a maverick."
Spend any time talking to Winston and the rest of THEBUS team (Shawn Bouley and Chris Hayden, who used to work in operations at Reliant Stadium, are behind the scenes) and it quickly becomes apparent that this is anything but a lark. Not Your Ordinary Sports Show will be filmed by four cameras in a professional TV studio. Robert Henslee, the sports director at 610 AM, has been enlisted to be the show's moderator.
The whole thing's being undertaken with a professional approach. Winston isn't taking this on as some kind of hobby. He's committed to making it a success as a business. No matter how crazy it might sound to some.
"Who knows maybe everyone will be broadcasting shows like this 10 years from now," Winston says. "And we'll just have been the first."
Not Your Ordinary Sports Show will attempt to be something of a cross between Mystery Science Theater 3000, Real Time with Bill Maher and Best Damn Sports Show Period. And yes, it will only be shown online.
"The expectation is it's going to be Wayne's World," Bouley says, citing SNL's fictional spoof of a low-production value, train wreck of a public access show. "We have to give people a whole lot more."
Playing pioneer isn't easy though. It may even shake up your guests. Especially when they hear that Not Your Ordinary Sports will run throughout the entire Monday Night Football game. That's three hours plus of conversation from people sitting around a table, watching the game. Or in the case of Monday's opening show, six to seven hours of conversation.
ESPN kicks off Monday Night Football with a doubleheader and Not Your Ordinary Sports Show is intent on broadcasting throughout both games this Monday.
"What do you mean it's three hours?" Kelly says when asked about the time. "No one does a three-hour TV show."
When told that his show is actually seven hours, Kelly pauses. "Seven hours," he shoots back. "No, really. Seriously. How long is it? Who does a TV show for seven hours? What is this the Jerry Lewis telethon?"
Kelly's joking. Sort of. I think.
Tackle Who Loves Technology
It's all part of the fascination of a show the likes of which no one's ever seen before. It's a live wire act. Live TV on the Internet. Every Monday night. (Just wait until the Texans media relations department hears that MRI-tweeting Arian Foster is going to be on live TV for three hours one show. Think anything interesting's going to be said?)
"That's the whole show," Winston says. "It's having the guests from all different backgrounds looking at sports and football, and life, from different perspectives. We want to be centered around the football game, but they'll be plenty of conversation that takes us in different directions."
Winston is something of a football nut, even for an NFL player. He laughs when asked if he thinks he'll need a lot of prep time for his three-hour show. "I know the league pretty well," he says.
You could say that. During a test run for the show done off a preseason game, Winston rattled off the Colts' record in the preseason the last four years. Without referring to any notes.
Not Your Ordinary Sports Show will have a number of elements geared to keep things moving and interesting. A Referee Girl, something of an anti Mike Pereria, will be off on the side, ready to step in with a "ruling" in the case of an instant replay challenge on the Monday Night Game. Only Katie, the Referee Girl, will not be giving lectures on the intricacies of taking a catch to the ground a la Pereria. Instead, she might rule that the Bears deserve the call because she appreciates their old school socks.
If you love Ron Jaworski, this show probably isn't for you. If you'd often like to stick one of those old school socks in Jaworski's mouth . . . well, you're Winston's prime audience.
In many ways, Not Your Ordinary Sports Show will be about avoiding the painfully obvious lectures that dominate many traditional network sports broadcasts. That's the idea anyway. One that Winston admits he and his team couldn't have even imagined just a few years ago.
"In a weird way, the technology is what's made this possible," Winston says of an active NFL player deciding to start a fledgling TV network (THEBUS is already working on additional programming ideas). "Four of five years ago, I don't know that could have even tried to pull this off. It's a lot more level playing field now. It's a tribute to the technology."
And a professional athlete who doesn't fit into any of the traditional boxes. Will Winston's new online sports TV network be revolutionary or a colossal bust? Who knows?
But Winston won't be timid in trying to find out.