Arlo White on bringing the Premier League to American fans
Soccer fans across the country have their own weekend morning routine: Get up early, make a big pot of coffee or head to a local pub and watch the English Premier League.
Interest in the Premier League has grown rapidly in the last few years, largely because of the work of NBC and the NBC Sports Network in presenting the game, from pregame shows to the matches to the postgame shows and related programming.
The lead play-by-play voice for the Premier League on NBC is Arlo White, a native of Leicester, England.
White previously broadcast Seattle Sounders games in Major League Soccer. He works the games at the English grounds along with analysts Lee Dixon and Graeme Le Saux. The studio shows are hosted in the U.S. by Rebecca Lowe along with analysts Robbie Earle, Robbie Mustoe and Kyle Martino.
During the summer, White visited Wrigley Field twice to take in Cubs games. He also attended last Monday night's Bears-Packers game in Green Bay.
While at Wrigley Field last week, he stopped to chat with the Daily Herald's Cubs writer, Bruce Miles. Here is an edited question-and-answer story.
Question: NBC and NBCSN have won major praise for their coverage of the Premier League. What's the key to that success?
Answer: I think because we treat the Premier League, even though it's in a different country, like it's a major-league sport in the United States. From a marketing standpoint, NBC has invested an awful lot of money into it. Gathering the talent, and I'll keep myself outside of that, the talent like Rebecca, the Robbies, Kyle, Lee Dixon, Graeme Le Saux, absolutely top notch. Everyone cares very deeply about what we do. And we feel we've got sort of an ambassadorial role for the league to spread the word into America. NBC has a history of excellence when it comes to sports broadcasting. So they brought that excellence into the Premier League sphere.
Q: The studio shows are fast-moving. Is that a credit to Rebecca Lowe because she is so authoritative and that she challenges the guys in the studio?
A: Yes, and I think challenging the guys is the secret to her success and the studio show's success because they've got an awful lot of knowledge. Sometimes it takes the journalistic aspect that Rebecca brings to get the best out of them. That means that we've got great pundits and we've got a fantastic host who gets the best out of them. Perfect scenario.
Q: Do you tailor your own delivery during the games for an American audience?
A: Not really. I might say the odd word like "locker room." I keep up on what's going on in Major League Baseball and in the NFL. There are certain times sometimes when I can give examples of what happened in American sports and ally them to the Premier League. I remember one situation when Marshawn Lynch was saying at a press conference before the Super Bowl, "I'm only here because I'm getting paid." I think that week, (current Manchester United manager) Jose Mourinho had given a particularly grumpy press conference, and I sort of put the two together. I don't force it. But if it's appropriate and it makes sense, I'll do that.
The American soccer fan or Premier League wants authenticity. So you won't find me saying "PK" (for penalty kick) or outside back or anything like that because that's American soccer language, and that's fine. But we do the English game, the English league, in the English way.
Q: How have you seen the American audience grow in numbers and sophistication when it comes to soccer and the Premier League?
A: I think they were sophisticated when we took over. I've been involved in American soccer since 2010 when I joined Seattle. I think it's been a journey in places such as MLS cities that have expansion teams. You have a mixture of people who are sophisticated and know what they're talking about, have been fans for years. You also have people who are new and are attracted to this nice new sport and nice new club.
But I think Premier League fans, by and large, have been very sophisticated from the moment we took over. But we're always open to new fans, and we like new fans. But if new fans get involved, we don't tend to dummy down. We live in an era where there is so much information that you can go and find out about it and educate yourself. We'll do our bit. You go a and do a bit of work yourself, and then you're in with us for the ride.
Q: NBCSN regularly changes things up by sending the studio crew to England and having you at a desk on the field before and after games. This year, the studio show will travel to some U.S. cities. Is this another way of keeping things fresh?
A: The Premier League fan fests are coming up, the first one is in Washington, D.C. I'll be in Liverpool that day for a big game. We're partnering with the Premier League for that, which is an interesting development. I love doing the pitch-side desks. It's one of the most challenging things I've ever done in my career because you've got to host pitch-side before the games. Twenty minutes before the game, you have to dash up through the crowd. There's no easy walkway and elevator to get up. You have to go up the stairs and through the crowd to get to the announce booth, or the gantry (as it's called in England).
You call the game. Then we dash back downstairs and try to interview the guys afterward. But it's absolutely brilliant. I love those days. And when the guys all come over (to England) or when Rebecca is in the Olympics and I go over and host the studio show, it's lovely for all to see what each other's life is like and what each other's role is like so everyone then can have an understanding of the whole broadcast.
Q: But one occupational hazard seems to be avoid the sprinklers when you're on the pitch, isn't it?
A: We do have to worry about the sprinklers. At Wolverhampton Wanderers, the first weekend, their manager, Nuno Espirito Santo, insisted they were on from noon for a game that kicked off at 5:30. So we spent pretty much five hours trying to avoid the sprinklers.