Arlo White did not come to the Seattle Sounders with expectations of becoming an icon. Surely, he had expectations that he would be successful, but any hopes were far exceeded, as he said in Part 1 of our rather lengthy interview.
In Part 2 of the interview, we delve a little deeper into his relationship with the team and the fans and how that turned a virtual "no-brainer" decision to join NBC into what that required far more thought. But first, I wanted to get some background on how the whole deal came together.
From what I've gathered, NBC first approached MLS about finding an announcer and White's name immediately rose to the top of the list. From there, MLS contacted the Sounders. That the Sounders apparently made no attempt to hold White to the final year of his contract speaks volumes about their willingness to do right by someone in their organization, as well as take one for the betterment of the league.
I asked White how the situation unfolded from his perspective:
Arlo: I think MLS and NBC worked very closely together ever since the deal was signed. NBC is relatively, if not absolutely new to soccer in the recent history of their sports broadcasting. I imagine they picked the brains of Major League Soccer and the broadcasting experts there. There was probably bit of a brainstorming session as to who could front this thing. I'm absolutely humbled and delighted that they decided I was the man.
I think there was an approach to the Sounders on the very highest level. I understand that it was a call put into Joe (Roth) and then it became a Sounders front office situation. They weighed up the pros and cons of the situation and I think they saw the opportunity that was presented to me and the benefit to the league as they embark on this exciting relationship with one of the country's top sports broadcasters. I think they took a decision early on not to stand in the way.
As much as it was with a heavy heart and as much as I had a year left on my contract. In a perfect world maybe it would have happened in a year's time, both from my perspective and the Sounders', but these opportunities you can't dictate when they come. But it arrived and how the Sounders handled it will stay with me for the rest of my life. They were just so classy, supportive, disappointed, yet being able to see the bigger picture. It was perfectly amicable from Day 1. I had a moment with Adrian Hanauer and we reflected on how great the two years had been and it probably happened earlier than we expected. But I go with their blessing, which was very important to me because I want to be able to go into CenturyLink next year, or maybe a couple days earlier and go out to dinner with people and for their to be no hard feelings. There haven't been and I'm truly grateful for that.
My gratitude to the Sounders knows no bounds on that side of things.
Q: How difficult was the decision?
A: Put it this way: If NBC comes calling for you as a sports broadcaster with aspirations and if you're an ambitious guy, it is by definition a no-brainer. But with how well things had gone in Seattle, how much I enjoyed the lifestyle of the city, how I enjoyed the status of being the voice of the Sounders. I was very proud of the job that I had and the role that I was playing. I was very excited and enthused about everything that was going on. There was a thought process and there had to be. It wasn't as easy as saying "oh great, yeah, get me out of here." It's testament to the quality of the job and how much I was enjoying that I had to even go through a process. As a professional broadcaster, you arrive at the conclusion that this the greatest opportunity that anyone has ever placed in front of you and you'd be a fool to pass it up.
I'm now in the process of taking the passion that I had in my role with the Sounders, now taking that to a national level for NBC and I can't wait to get started. I'm going to give it everything I have. All the things that I learned about living in America and broadcasting for Major League Soccer I learned in Seattle. Hopefully I can transfer that success to a national level. Therein lies my greatest challenge.
Q: Was there anything the Sounders could have done to keep you here?
A: You have to take it from the perspective that it was a league decision as well and the Sounders are part of that league. From their perspective, on the level of the soccer announcer, they have contributed to the greater good I think.
If you're talking financially, it wasn't a financial decision by any stretch of the imagination. It was a career decision and one that I arrived at and everyone involved seems to be comfortable with.
Q: Where will you be based?
A: I'll be East Coast based. NBC Sports has moved to Stamford, Conn. Bristol (where ESPN is located) and Stamford will be vying for the top sports broadcasting hub, I suppose. It's not a million miles away from Manhattan. All those decisions will be made now that we can openly talk to each other and I can plan my immediate future.
There are so many games: 46 MLS games, four national team games and the olympics. That will not afford me anymore time at home than I got in 2011.
When I say home, I have a complicated personal situation. My wife is a career girl. She is very good at what she does. The visa situations in the US are what they are, so I can work and be successful and chase my dream, but it means LIzzie doesn't get to pursue hers. We're going to look at that, and being on the East Coast does make things easier. It will be cheaper to get home for visits and for people to visit us. From that perspective, it will be easier. But that wasn't a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination.
I was very happy in Kirkland. It's a great place to bring up a family. I was very happy in Seattle. It's a beautiful place. You just don't know in this life and this industry where you're going to spend the next few years of your life. I would be more than happy spending my days out in Seattle, but my life has taken a different turn.
Q: Did you at any point think you might be here for 20 or 30 years, maybe even spend the rest of your career here?
A: I never looked that far ahead. What I'm very aware of is the sports broadcasting culture is very different in the U.S. than in the U.K. Because the U.K. is smaller, we don't have local team broadcasters. There are local BBC stations that cover clubs, but they are separate from the club, not employed by the club. They are employed by the BBC. They might not be neutral, but they aren't ingratiated into the club in the way that broadcasters are in the United States.
I know from following American sports for many years that the cult of the sports announcer is massive. In no place in the States is that stronger than in Seattle, who has had some amazing broadcasters. Is there anyone better than Kevin Calabro in the business in basketball? Dave Niehaus was just astonishing for baseball. Steve Raible with the Seahawks is just consummate in what he does.
I was well aware that I was joining esteemed company. To be mentioned in the same breath as some of these guys was astounding, a little daunting, especially after just two years. But I think I joined the Sounders at the right time. My voice, if you like, became the soundtrack to something that was incredibly exciting. To be thought of in those terms was incredible.
But did I think 20 or 30 years ahead? No, but I did think that if I stuck around here then I am going to be the voice of this franchise from Year 2 to year whatever and that didn't daunt me at all. I was open to it.
Q: People seem to have really responded to both your work ethic and attention to detail. What do you think?
A: I am very proud of this. I work very hard. It wasn't just a case of thinking my accent would woo them. That never came into my thought process. I think a lot of people responded to work, diligence, homework and not just about the Sounders, but about the other team. It was nuggets of information that you only get from reading and doing your business.
As a broadcaster, I don't like to just waffle on. I don't just want to hear my own voice. I like everything I say to mean something and to have some value. I think that's what Sounders fans responded to.
It was a pleasure to do it. I started my career selling (parts) to the sign-making industry until the age of 25. I decided it was now or never to get into broadcasting. So I think that work ethic was instilled in me early on by my dad who was a printer and I carried that through. I was a late developer, got into broadcasting late and was never going to let anyone take it away from me. That's where the work ethic comes from.
As for pronouncing names, you go around saying "Ugo Ihemelu" 100 times while making dinner, means you will say "Ugo Ihemelu" during the game.
The best one was Pete Vagenas. The best thing to do was to go and ask Pete. How did you pronounce your surname? He said "it's vey-ya-nas." It's not "va-ge-nas" or some other quasi-rude pronunciations of his name. I asked if anyone had asked him that before and he said no. I thought just go to the horse's mouth and you'll get the name right.
In the third and final part of our interview, White answers many of the questions our readers submitted. Look for that on Friday.