(Editor’s note: this is Part 2 of Frank MacDonald’s interview with Arlo White. Part 1 can be found here.)
For an Englishman, Arlo White sure gets around. America, that is.
White has been an Americanophile for over 30 years, beginning with a boyhood trip to Chicago to visit his great aunt. He kept coming back, and then in 2010 began broadening his travel as Sounders broadcaster and, beginning in 2012, as lead commentator for NBCSN coverage of MLS.
His work for the network’s Premier League coverage has since taken him back home to Leicester, but a piece of his heart always seems to drum to the beat of a Yankee. He spends his summer holidays exploring the country with his wife and twin daughters. This year was no exception, and he’s already plotting a 2019 return to where this TV business all started.
Dedicated to his craft, White is always prepared for the worst and exuberant for the best. Now beginning his sixth season of EPL play-by-play, he says he’s altered his style, but only slightly, and believes he and NBC have found their groove.
Almost 10 years into working on TV, do you find that you’ve changed your approach in any way?
In terms of preparation, it’s exactly the same, with a few tweaks. At the start there was possibly more statistics. Now that I’ve grown into the League and the role, it’s probably more about storylines. If I can add a nice quote that gets a conversation started or makes a point, it lets the players or the manager dictate the storyline rather than me shoehorning something into a game.
Preparation, I always look at it the same: You have to prepare for the world’s worst nil-nil. If you only use 10 percent of the stuff you’ve got, you go into that game prepared for any eventuality. I generally do two games every weekend; this opening weekend I’ll do three. Each and every one of them, whether it’s Manchester United-Leicester City or Southampton-Burnley, they all get the same treatment. They are all an event in themselves. And when you treat it like an event, hopefully that comes across to people at home that this is important. It might not be two glamorous sides, but it’s a really important game to the teams. There’s an element of education to it when it’s some of the smaller teams in the league. Otherwise for me it’s the same, but my familiarity with the League and the surroundings is greater, and I feel comfortable in my voice in this League. I feel I’m in the right place.
The next World Cup will be unlike any before it. How do you imagine this winter (for the Northern Hemisphere) tournament will play out, particularly its effect on leagues throughout the world?
It’s tricky one. Qatar is like a furnace in our summer, so it was the worst kept secret in world football when it was switched to the winter. I honestly don’t know how FIFA managed to sneak this past the clubs. The tournament is a month long, and the players will have to be handed over to the football associations, what, three weeks in advance? And then after the World Cup you see players returning to their clubs 3-4 days before the start of the season.
Players get five weeks off each season, and three of those weeks have to be consecutive. Will they get those weeks in the offseason, the summer? They would probably get a week off after making it to the semifinals or final. So, the clubs could be without the best players for the better part of two months. The leagues will shut down for the World Cup, but are they really going to shut down for two months? If they do, that will be pretty chaotic. We love the World Cup, and it’s just a shame it has to be moved right in the middle of the European season. It leaves a sour taste. But, as in Russia, once the World Cup kicks off people forget about the extracurricular stuff and get on with loving the football.
There’s at least one league with experience to share when it comes to shutting down for a World Cup. MLS certainly has its share of quirks, but thankfully there is the playoff system. It’s been a lifeline for the Sounders these past three seasons, but it’s far from an ideal situation, playing catch-up.
After the MLS Cup defeat last year, I tweeted out my I hope that the Sounders organization–and for the sake of the fans–should really go for it from the start of the season, to win the Supporters’ Shield and eventually host an MLS Cup. That’s one of the club’s last remaining domestic issues to be checked off.
To see them start as slowly as they did was really disappointing. It seems to be a habit, and I don’t know why. If Adrian and Brian and Garth knew why, I’m sure they would put it right immediately. Obviously losing Jordan Morris was critical. They should be much higher up in the table. With all the new teams coming in, it’s getting tougher and tougher.
Per usual, it’s a season of two halves, and they’re coming strong in the second half. Hopefully this run will be good enough to get into the playoffs, but they will be at a disadvantage. I’d love to see them start quickly next year and make a real go for home-field advantage.
Brad Smith, by the way, is a very good signing. From what I’ve heard about his attitude, his approach and that Aussie grit as well as his talent, I think that’s a very solid signing for the run-in.
Via Twitter we see your family enjoyed another American adventure this summer, this time in the Midwest, beginning at Wrigley Field, then moving on south to Nashville. Tell us about it.
I love going to Wrigley Field. Chicago’s like a second home because I’ve got loads of family there. I got passes to go on the field before the game and got to meet the Cubs’ radio announcers as well, Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer. I actually wore one of their World Series rings while they were on-air. The 13-year-old me was very, very excited.
I love Nashville and watched the England-Croatia game there in a pub. There’s a fair concentration of soccer fans there and we went to the Grand Ole Opry that night. It was an amazing experience, and during various points in the show or at the bar, 4-5 people came up to me and wanted to talk about Everton or Manchester United. It was just brilliant. They were so polite and the recognition there was like nothing I’ve experienced outside of Seattle. I know they are coming into MLS and it seems to me to be a real soccer town, more so than I ever expected.
Next, we went to Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum. It was amazing to see where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and show the girls what he stood for. We went to studios where Elvis first recorded and to Graceland where he lived. It was magical. Then a nice week in California and, as usual, we came back pining for more America.
You’re named after an American musician. Is your middle name Elvis, by any chance?
It’s actually James, after James Taylor. My parents really got into that music. One day it’s on my bucket list to see Arlo Guthrie play.
America’s a big country. Any idea when we will see you again in Seattle?
Next July. It will be the 10th anniversary of doing my first game (July 9, 2009), when I covered for Kevin Calabro in that inaugural season. It was 2-1 versus Houston, Montero and Ianni the goal scorers after falling behind. Greg Vanney, incidentally, was the co-commentator. And that was the day it really, really kicked-in that this is what I wanted to do. I would like to maybe come and visit the game that’s near that 10th anniversary. I’ll get planning.
Frank MacDonald is a Seattle soccer journalist and historian. This story first appeared on his website and has been republished here with his permission.