A few minutes with Arlo White, NBC Sports' new voice of the Premier League
It says something about the culture of the American sports media that we think we know broadcasters on a personal level, when we don't really.
A few minutes with Arlo White, NBC Sports' new voice of the Premier League
NEW YORK - It says something about the culture of the American sports media that we think we know broadcasters on a personal level, when we don't really.
Yes, they are a major part of our lives in any sport. We certainly know that well in Philadelphia, thanks to legends such as Harry Kalas, Merrill Reese and Dan Baker.
It's not just a Philly thing, or an American thing either. Think of Ron McLean and Don Cherry in Canada, or John Motson and the recently-deceased Christopher Martin-Jenkins in England.
(If you don't know who any of them are, look them up. CMJ in particular might not be familiar to you, but when you read the story of his life you'll understand.)
Those supposed connections have grown even stronger thanks to social media, especially Twitter. In addition to hearing voices, we see photos of kids and the weather and press boxes and whatever's being served for dinner.
But I can honestly say that I know Arlo White. I have talked to him on and off the record many times during his three-and-a-half years in the United States. He is as great a person as you think he is: unfailingly kind and honest, and as driven and passionate about his work as he could possibly be.
He also cares deeply about two things that he is about to give up: life in the United States and Major League Soccer.
Yes, he'll be back on this side of the Atlantic a few times each year to call big games for NBC. But he's going home, and he's doing so because he's going to live out a life-long dream.
I would. You would.
You will like John Strong a lot. I've gotten to know him too since the Portland Timbers joined MLS.
I also know that many of you have grown very fond of Arlo White's work, and you will be sad when he leaves America in late June.
(If, as I've heard, he's heading back to England in July, It's possible that his last regular MLS broadcast for NBC Sports Network will be the Union-Dallas game at PPL Park on June 29. But that's just a guess on my part, nothing more. He could leave later.)
This is an extremely proud day for me. To be in an iconic venue like 30 Rock, and we see this iconic venue behind us [on a backdrop] in Old Trafford - to take it from Manhattan and 30 Rockefeller Center to these venues in England where I've seen so many games and covered so many in my time with the BBC, it's an absolute thrill.
My passion for calling soccer - for commentating on football, depending on what side of the Atlantic you're from – would be evidenced if you could speak to my grandfather about this. He's sadly no longer with us.
I used to drag him out of bed as a six-year-old every Sunday morning. He was bleary-eyed, but enthusiastic, and I think he was impressed with my enthusiasm. I would plug his microphone into his hi-fi system in the early 80's, and I would talk through a full 90 minutes on some occasions of ficticious soccer matches.
My team, Leicester City, went on an unprecedented 37-match unbeaten run during that time, and he acted as my summarizer [color analyst]. I kept the tapes, and I still have them to this day. I think he'd be extremely proud, as the rest of my family are.
The journey, to this point has been extraordinary, and I feel very privileged. I was at the BBC for nine years – that's where I cut my teeth, where I got my broadcasting chops.
And then I went a little bit off-road, to use a different sports analogy, and joined what I thoroughly believe is a great league with a burgeoning future in Major League Soccer. I was fortunate to join the Seattle Sounders - whose average crowd, as you probably know, is over 40,000. It's an incredible story in the Pacific Northwest.
After two years, here came NBC. This has been a remarkable experience covering Major League Soccer, and the Olympic games last year as the U.S. women's national team won the gold medal at Wembley. I didn't think it would get any better – evidently, it might just do that.
Working for Pierre [Moossa] is fantastic. It's demanding. The standards that this organization sets for every single broadcast are exacting. A lot is expected of us. We are held to a very high account.
Some of us fear the conference call on a Tuesday when we review the tape of the game before, but all feedback is always positive, it's always constructive, and it always helps us to be better broadcasters on a week-by-week basis.
There is a commitment in this organization to telling stories, and to allowing the sport, to a degree, to speak for itself. It's been a privilege to work for this company, and I'm a better broadcaster than I was before joining it. Hopefully that will continue.
It's been an honor, and this is very exciting for me to get this opportunity. So I thank Mark [Lazarus] and Sam [Flood] and Jon [Miller] and Pierre for their faith in me, and I hope to repay them.
On whether his time with MLS is over:
I don't think so. We haven't finalized any plans yet, but there's a possibility of coming back for some playoff games in November. I know that from last year's experience of eight games in 20 days – it was great for the air miles account
[Pierre Moossa interjects: Arlo will call some key [regular-season] games and playoff games.]
White later talked separately with me and Graham Parker of the Guardian.
On getting the chance to be the lead play-by-play voice for NBC's Premier League telecasts:
It's just an extraordinary opportunity. Life has just taken a different course again. I just got my family over last summer, after the Olympic Games, and then in October, the deal was done. I didn't known in October - I knew after Christmas.
On building a soccer culture within NBC:
I can tell you that from day one, there have been missives going around. As soon as the property was bought by NBC, there was an internal education system about the league. There are internal stats people producing packs for everybody.
I went to a viewing party at the new studios [in Stamford, Conn.] for the Man United-Man City game [on April 8]. It was full of people who want to learn. Now, there are already a lot of Premier League fans, or world soccer fans, within NBC Sports. You just have to work for these guys for five minutes to realize how seriously they take it.
If a person who works in the organization wasn't a soccer fan before, you bet your bottom dollar that they are watching every game now. They are surfing the Internet, they are immersing themselves in it, because they want to do the best possible job.
From that perspective, I've got no doubt that come August 17, everyone is going to be on their game and knowledgable about the product.
On the timeline for his return to England:
We're looking at an early July return to the UK - which is a lot earlier than I thought. We were here for good, we were here for keeps. This was never a route back home. This was a life decision to come to the United States. I love the country, I believe in the league. You don't move your family over [otherwise].
We are renting, so the exit is a little easier than it could be from a logistical point of view. But I'm a massive believer in Major League Soccer. There's an element of a heavy heart to leave it, because I'm very passionate about it. I don't think you move your family over for something that you don't believe in.
But this opportunity is just extraordinary. And from a family perspective, we get to go home and the kids get to be with their [friends]. So it's a positive in that.
On the importance of his past experience broadcasting to an American audience:
It was something that I developed very early on. I've got no problem saying "soccer." Everybody asks if it's "soccer" or "football." Well, soccer is a British word. It comes from association football. I grew up in the Midlands watching Star Soccer every Sunday afternoon with Hugh Johns, Leicester City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers.
So it's not the freakish Americanized word that people tend to think it is - but there are certain issues over here. I would happily say "locker room" instead of "changing room." What I won't say is "PK" instead of "penalty." I will say "top corner" instead of "upper 90." I'm sort of Anglicized in that way.
But I am used to talking to an American soccer audience, and I think that experience is going to help me convey the Premier League to the audience over here.
And make no mistake about it, it's going to be a different audience from the one that I've been talking to for three years, including the time in Seattle. There are elements of the Premier League audience here - which is large - that don't watch Major League Soccer. There might be a schism between the two fan bases.
So to them, I might be somebody completely new. They might have to get used to me. But rest assured that all the preparation will be done, and I'm taking this extremely seriously.