Sunday, December 21, 2014

Q&A with NBC Sports Premier League studio analyst Robbie Earle

The former Jamaican international talks about NBC's first day of broadcasting the Premier League.

Q&A with NBC Sports Premier League studio analyst Robbie Earle

(Photo courtesy of NBC Sports)
(Photo courtesy of NBC Sports)

STAMFORD, Conn. - Arlo White isn't the only member of NBC's Premier League broadcast crew who moved from calling MLS games to the bigger stage.

Indeed, White isn't the only member of NBC's team who moved from working the Premier League to MLS and then back to the Premier League. Studio analyst Robbie Earle can make the same claim.

Earle spent 18 years playing in England, split evenly between Port Vale and Wimbledon. Though English by birth, he joined Jamaica's national team via family lineage. He won 33 caps for the Reggae Boys, and was a part of the team that famously made the 1998 World Cup. He even scored the team's first goal at the tournament.

After hanging up his cleats, Earle turned to broadcasting. He became a pundit for English powerhouse ITV, then moved to the United States in 2010 when ITV fired him for being involved in an illegal World Cup ticket sales scandal. Earle had passed on to friends some tickets that ITV had given him, and those tickets were resold without Earle's knowledge.

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Q&A with NBC Sports Premier League studio analyst Robbie Earle

Earle had already been working with ESPN International by then, and continued to do so after moving to the United States. It did not take long for him to rebuild his reputation. In 2011, the Portland Timbers hired Earle to be their color analyst on TV broadcasts after joining Major League Soccer. NBC hired him for its EPL crew early in the summer, and he has also worked some MLS games for the network.

I met him a while ago as a result of that work, and we've crossed paths a few times. In fact, Earle was at PPL Park when the Timbers faced the Union on July 20. That was his last game on Portland's local broadcasts before moving to NBC full time.

We chatted for a few minutes on Saturday after NBC's first Premier League broadcast wrapped up. Here's a transcript of the conversation.

One of the first big moments of the show was when you went quiet in the studio right before the kickoff of Liverpool-Stoke City, as "You'll Never Walk Alone" was played at Anfield. What was that moment like for you?

That is one of the iconic moments of playing in the Premier League. I've been fortunate enough to play at Anfield maybe 10 or 15 times in my career, and still even thinking about it, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It's just a unique theater in which to play sport.

The love of the game from people in that area, the history, the tradition, the way they go about their business - it's just top-class. That was one of the things that I hope hit people in their armchairs at home: just what it means, the passion for soccer that region has. It's almost like you have to pay homage when that comes on. You'll never hear anyone shout or talk, everyone's just very focused and listening.

Not to criticize anyone in particular, but in lots of American sports the broadcasters are talking all the time. How important in a television broadcast can laying out at the right time be?

Sometimes it's not how much we say, it's what we say. It's a visual sport. Sometimes the pictures will say much more than we ever can. There's a time to lay out. There's a time, sometimes, to just enjoy the grace, the power, the speed, the intensity, the emotion.

The pictures will do that, the noise will do that, and we've got commentators who are setting it up. As analysts, our job is to feel the mood and decide when to add a little bit of extra explanation of one or two things that might be confusing or not so obvious.

And there's a time when the pictures tell you everything. When [Manchester United's Robin] van Persie turns with his left foot and smashes the ball into the top of the goal, there's not an awful lot you need to say. It's just a beautiful bit of football by a man who's highly skilled and at the top of his trade.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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