Sometimes, it’s not politics. Sometimes, it’s not who you know, but what you know. Sometimes hard work is rewarded.
That was the case today when NBC made the brilliant personnel decision of hiring voice-of-the-Sounders Arlo White as NBC Sports Groups play-by-play voice of MLS.
I’m sure to some degree the news will be viewed as bittersweet locally, where Sounders fans will miss Arlo’s familiar voice calling Sounders games and praising Dairy Queen treats. But it’s a great personal reward for Arlo who grew up on the EPL but made it his business to learn MLS as well as just about anyone. And to whatever degree, it seems like a good thing for soccer in this country, so have so personable and knowledgeable ambassador of the game handling the broadcasts for NBC.
It’s almost hard to remember now, but Arlo wasn’t the original Sounders play-by-play guy. He came in for the second season, replacing Kevin Calabro — the best basketball announcer I’ve ever heard, but probably a little further down the list when it came to soccer. And while it was obvious that White knew plenty about soccer, it remained to be seen how the idea of an English import would work out in Puget Sounder. I rechecked my notes and found some of that uncertainty reflected in this original interview I did with White, when he was first introduced as the new voice of the Sounders:
Q: How did you come to announce for an MLS team?
AW: I reached a very good point at the BBC in the UK in terms – soccer being the main sport, Premier League being the main sport. I was going until two weeks ago to two Premier League games a week, presenting big programs from these grounds, from these stadiums. The biggest sports show on UK radio is “Saturday Sports on 5” and I presented that as the stand-in: So there you are as the man giving the information to the whole of the UK, as they’re getting into cars going to games. You know what it’s like in the UK: thousands upon thousands of people go to games every weekend. … They’re getting in their cars wanting to know the scores, and you’re the guy giving that information to people. It’s a highly esteemed position to be in. So when you are next in line to take that full time there has to be something big to entice you to get off of that ladder. And when I came to Seattle for the first time for the opening night, it blew me away, it absolutely blew me away. And that was only enforced really by the second trip … for the Houston game. It’s the passion of the supporters. Don’t take this the wrong way, but this is not a soccer mum audience, this is a crowd, this is a proper football crowd – what I consider to be one – standing up chanting, — cleaner than some of the chanting I’ve heard at home, frankly. But the passion of it is there.
Q: Do you think you’ll have to sort of hold the hand of local fans, who might not understand soccer as deeply as U.K. fans?
AW: I don’t think so. One of the challenges I’m going to face is do I call it soccer or football. I think it’s a sophisticated football audience here – in Washington and in Seattle – so I don’t think I will be. I think I’ve got to call the game as I see it and as I would any game in the U.k. I think the people watching it and they enjoy it, in a way it’s down to them to go and find out. I don’t think you hold people’s hand through a 90-minute game.
Q: I assume you know the EPL better than MLS?
AW: I think that’s a fair comment. But I think I displayed in the Houston game that you do your homework. That’s part and parcel of the job, isn’t it.
Q: How difficult will it be to handle both radio and TV broadcasts?
A: One of the keys to it I think for the radio audience is where is the ball on the field, without overtalk, because the TV audience doesn’t necessarily want too much talking during the TV broadcast either. That will be a challenge. That will be something I can learn as I go, I guess.