I got a few minutes with Arlo White this morning, talking with him about his two seasons as voice of the Sounders and today’s news that he will become the voice of NBC’s coverage of Major League Soccer.
Q: Congratulations on the new job with NBC:
AW: It’s such a great opportunity I just couldn’t turn it down. It’s going to be great for the career, and also I stay on the radar: I’ll still be in MLS, so I’ll be visiting plenty, hopefully.
Q: And this is a full-time gig, no more Sounders work at all?
A: That’s right. As I understand it, the Sounders were approached about that happening and about acquiring my services. I think the Sounders weighed things up, and they weighed the opportunity that I was being presented with here and also for the good of the league if you like, that NBC got what was perceived to be one of the best commentators in the country: I’m very honored and flattered by that, by being given that opportunity. And the Sounders were just absolutely incredible: Joe Roth, Adrian Hanauer, Gary Wright, Drew Carey. Nobody stood in my way. They were disappointed to see me go, but I go with their blessing and I can’t thank them enough for the last two years and also for essentially letting me out of the final year of my contract – another example of the class of the organization.
Q: Will you be able to keep those feelings for the club in check when you cover a Sounders game for a national audience?
AW: I did one game for the Fox Soccer Channel during the last season – my only national game thus far – and the Sounders scored two goals in about three or four minutes, didn’t they?, Mauro Rosales and Ozzie Alonso against Vancouver, and then Eric Hassli scored one of the greatest goals ever scored in – well, certainly of the greatest goals that I’ve seen, even though it wasn’t good enough for MLS goal of the season in the end. I don’t think there were any complaints that I saw from Vancouver fans that I was too biased toward the Sounders. I’ll fall back on my nine years of BBC experience, where the watchword was neutrality and objectivity and that sort of thing. But there will always be a place in my heart for the Seattle Sounders and the impact that working and living in the city had on me – and the club itself and the club’s fans and how they took me to their hearts. It was just an amazing two years, so I’m never ever ever going to forget that. It was incredible.
Q: I remember our first meeting when you were first hired. It certainly didn’t seem like you were coming to the job as any sort of stepping stone to bigger things. How did what played out compare to what you were anticipating when you arrived?
AW: I especially didn’t come seeing it as a stepping stone. I don’t think many people truly understood what I gave up to come to the Sounders. There was a blossoming career, if you like, in national radio in the United Kingdom — covering Premier League football, presenting national shows – but I wanted to be a full-time soccer commentator. And Seattle offered me that opportunity. I had done my research, I had done my due diligence. I had been to the opening game and I had covered a game against Houston in July of 2009, and I saw exactly what it was all about, and I was completely sold on it and passionate about it from the moment I set foot in what was then Qwest Field to watch an MLS game. And then getting to know a few people in the front office and seeing what they were about and seeing the fans passion for it completely sold it to me. Now at that point, did I expect to be picked up by NBC two years in? Absolutely not. I didn’t come to Seattle – I don’t know if I would have thought it would have been for life – but it certainly entered my mind when I came to Seattle, ‘I’m making a huge commitment here to the club, they’re making a big commitment to me, and we’ll see where it takes us. And the two years have been fantastic. It’s important to stress that I didn’t go out to seek this job. It found me. And again the club has been fantastic and understanding in that situation. But stepping stone? Absolutely not. A great time? Absolutely yes.
Q: I know you love America and you love soccer. Does it seem now that the two are coming to love each other?
AW: Very much so, and I think this NBC deal is a huge step in the right direction in that regard. Having spent a few weeks in the U.K. following the Sounders’ playoff exit I can tell you the people are talking about Major League Soccer. It’s not the most popular league in the world, of course — the English Premier League is huge, La Liga is massive, the Champions League is a huge competition – but it’s certainly on the radar. And within the United States it’s absolutely going in the right direction. The boost created by the MLS Cup, another new franchise coming in in Montreal, the potential for a New York franchise in 2013… From my own observations, having been a regular visitor to the United States over the years since 1986, it’s fascinating to me whenever we land in different cities around the States to cover the Sounders and all you see down below you are soccer pitches. You see, obviously, the gridirons and baseball diamonds; but the amount of soccer pitches that you see in all the cities when you land at various airports in major cities astounds me. I feel like the game is creeping into the national sporting conscious, and also in popular culture as well. There are so many reference to it and I think that is symptomatic of a sport that is going places, that is certainly improving its profile. And I think that this NBC deal is going to be another step in that direction. I’m not for one moment suggesting it’s going to challenge NFL or Major League Baseball in the near future, but in a nation of 350 million people to be the fourth or fifth most popular sport still makes you absolutely viable. And I think the platform is really there for this sport to blossom in the next five to 10 years.
Q: I know you’ve broadcast Super Bowls and other sports. Might any of that continue now with NBC?
AW: Not at this stage, no. I think Al Michaels’ job is absolutely safe at this stage, and I won’t be knocking on their door to try to get it, obviously. For me, it’s just concentrating right now on getting the MLS products off the ground and getting those broadcasts right. There might be some Olympic Games there – with the soccer and NBC’s commitment to the Olympics – which is great because they will be in London. But I’ll probably be calling games from elsewhere. We’ll see. And also U.S. national games, which is a tremendous honor to do. But I’m on the books, so we’ll see what happens. The initial focus is obviously going to be about soccer, but I’m open to other experiences, much like my BBC days.