With regular Premier League Live host Rebecca Lowe going on maternity leave, NBC’s lead Premier League play-by-play announcer Arlo White has returned stateside to fill in as studio host for the next two weeks. (Steve Bower will do the remainder of the season from there to let White return to play-by-play ahead of May 15’s Championship Sunday, with NBC Sports Group Premier League coordinating producer Pierre Moossa telling Awful Announcing “Arlo is our lead commentator, and as this unprecedented season draws to a close, every match carries even more significance. Therefore, the most important place for him to be is on-site calling the action.”) White spoke to Awful Announcing Wednesday about his new role, the unprecedented success of his hometown club of Leicester City (so unusual that King Richard III has even been credited for it), and what it’s like to be living in England and covering the Premier League for an American network. Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Awful Announcing: What’s it going to be like for you, moving from play-by-play to being the studio host for the next couple of weeks?
Arlo White: Well, I suppose that’s the challenge. I watch the shows on a weekly basis and see what a great job Rebecca does. The roles, in essence, are very different, but I’ve got a good sense for it, a good feel for it from watching the shows on a weekly basis. Rebecca has set the bar so incredibly high, but I welcome the challenge of trying to at least match that, so the experience for the viewers over the next couple of weekends hopefully will be up to that standard. I think for me it’s a case of being concise, getting the best of the Robbies and Kyle. The transitions will be different to what I’m used to, being a play-by-play guy, but the support team here is so good that I can’t wait to get started in studio here on Saturday morning. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
AA: Have you done much studio work before?
AW: A fair amount. My background that I think is going to be really handy for this role is BBC Radio, national radio. You’ve heard of Five Live, which is the home of live news and sports for the BBC? I worked there for 10 years, and for a good four or five years there I was the first deputy for a legendary broadcaster called Mark Pougatch on the Saturday shows. Now, if you’re in England and you’re a soccer fan, as you know, you’re driving to away games because the country’s nice and small, so you get a good representation of away fans, and as they’re driving on the motorways around the country, everyone is listening to Five Live. That was me, many many times, and on the way back, of course, when you get back to your car, everyone wants to hear about the football results.
So at five o’clock, and it’s been going for 60 years, I’d say, “It’s five o’clock, it’s time for Sports Report.” And you’d go around to all the different grounds, all the different reporters, after getting the scores. So the sense of it being live, exciting, responding to stories, that was a real thrill. If anything, that’s one thing I’ve missed from working at the BBC, that particular role, so I think the experience I’ve had on those busy Premier League Saturday afternoons and the skills I’ve picked up there are going to come to the fore here covering for Rebecca.
AA: With you being from Leicester, how is this season special for you?
AW: It’s just the most interesting, thrilling, compelling story that I’ve been involved in in my broadcasting career, and obviously it has extra resonance for me being from the city of Leicester. I attended my first game at the old Filbert Street, aged five, in 1978. So naturally, I have an insider knowledge of what this means to the city and to the club. It’s a nerve-wracking time for my friends and family, for the people of Leicester, none of which are convinced that Leicester are actually going to do this, because they haven’t done it in 132 years (since their 1882 founding), so why now? But I think everybody’s enjoying the ride that they’re on and they’re all pretty realistic about it.
The sun is up at the moment, the sporting sun is shining on the city of Leicester. It’s the biggest story in world football. Everybody wants to know about it. And it may be fleeting. It may not, who knows, with the way that the Premier League is going and the money that’s coming in. But the players that they have, Vardy, Mahrez, Kanté, maybe they’ll move on to bigger things, we’ll have to wait and see. But for the time being, it’s excellent.
And I would say from a personal perspective, Andrew, that with a microphone in hand, 10 years at the BBC, four or five now at NBC, you know, objectivity is the watchword. And I don’t squabble in any way with that when it’s with a microphone in my hand. But come and watch me watching a game when I’m not working and it’s a completely different matter! (laughs).
So it’s a very interesting situation. The average person in Leicester, I think they’re enjoying it, but they’re also massively fearful of Tottenham and the form that that football club are in, and I think there are a few more twists and turns before this thing is settled.
AA: Did you ever imagine something like this happening for Leicester?
AW: Uh, no, in a word. It’s extraordinary. 132 years, and I think it was 1928-29 when they came second (ed. note: Indeed), and in 1963, they were leading the table with five games to go and managed to win only one of those games. And then they lost the FA Cup Final. You know the way the system works in European soccer, Andrew; there is no system, so the richest teams usually do well.
And I don’t think there will ever be a confluence of scenarios again in the Premier League that have occurred this year, with the dysfunction at Manchester United, with the fact that Arsenal haven’t been able to take advantage, with the emergence of Tottenham as a threat to Leicester obviously, with Manchester City taking their eye off the ball with (Pep) Guardiola coming in, with Liverpool not quite hitting the mark, with Chelsea and the appalling defense of their Premier League title, I’m sure they’re going to be back stronger next year.
So it needed a team and a club to function at 100 percent both on and off the field, and I’m talking about the players, the support staff, the manager, the coaching staff, the hierarchy of the club, the owners of the club, and the supporters of the staff, to work to such a degree that they’re absolutely maxed out. And that has occurred at Leicester City Football Club. So they are on the verge of taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has been handed to them. So, did I expect this to ever happen? Absolutely not.
AA: When you left England to go call Seattle Sounders games (in 2010), did you ever think you would be back, calling the Premier League?
AW: No, not necessarily. I came to Seattle and it was a move that was about 18 months in the making, I was in touch with the club for a long time before I actually committed to it, so I had a long time to do my ground work, my research. Whilst a lot of people looked at me aghast at the BBC for giving up this amazing job that I had, and I did have an amazing job, I knew that there was something special happening with the sport in the United States, and I knew also that there was something very special happening in Seattle. I was at their opening game as a guest of the club, and I announced the game, not for broadcast, it was just like a dry run, really, and I had such fun doing it with a crowd of 30-odd thousand on opening night that I caught the bug. And if you add that to a lifelong love of the United States, which you’re probably familiar with; I visited for the first time at age 13 to an aunt and uncle in Chicago, and my love affair with America and with American sports was spawned at that point. So it was a great opportunity to experience a new life and experience the boom in American soccer that was yet to come, which has transpired.
Did I expect it then to lead to NBC and to lead to the Premier League? Absolutely not. I thought I was committing myself and my family to a life in the United States. And my daughters still talk about “Are we ever going to go home to the United States, Daddy?” Because they loved it in Westport, Connecticut, they had a year or two there. So I didn’t expect it to end up in the Premier League, back home in England, but I’m delighted that it did.
AA: What’s the biggest difference for you between calling MLS games and calling Premier League games?
AW: Good question. I think with MLS, it varied from game to game as to the atmosphere in the stadium depending on where you were. I’m not going to call out the empty stadiums, but it was more exhilarating, and you felt that you had to fill in less blanks if you like, if you were in Seattle, in Portland, if you were in Vancouver, if you were at the New York Red Bulls, if you were in Kansas City, at the LA Galaxy. They were really, really good atmospheres, and some of them on a par with what we experience with the Premier League back in England.
Sometimes you’d go to stadiums and there weren’t many people there, but I think even since I left to go back to the UK two and a half years ago, three years ago, I watch the MLS games on Sky TV on Sunday nights, they have a doubleheader every Sunday, the stadiums seem fuller across the board, so that wouldn’t be an issue any more. But I think the change in atmosphere, the contrast in atmosphere was something I had to be aware of. And the quality in play in the Premier League is at a high standard, sometimes there are a lot of turnovers in MLS games, but again, watching from afar, the quality of MLS is getting better by the year. So I’m a huge advocate for the league and always will be, but those are a few things I would point to as being different whilst I was calling games.
AA: How is it being in England and working for an American network? Do you do anything differently then when you were working for the BBC?
AW: No, but I can do a game and walk out and nobody hurls any abuse at me. So I’m nicely anonymous, so nobody can say that I support whichever team when I leave the stadium. I enjoy it, because as I mentioned before, despite my deep roots and love of all things American and Americana, particularly in sports, [the Premier League] is very dear to me, and it’s very ingrained in my DNA. So to be able to do a job, albeit living in England, and that brings its own advantages with being around your friends and your family, and my parents aren’t getting any younger, you know, so there are advantages to being at home, but also to being at these games every weekend. It’s such a thrill. Week in and week out, there are these massive games: Arsenal-Manchester United, Manchester derbies, Merseyside derbies, this year of course Leicester City games as well and the atmosphere at them has been fantastic. But I maintain that link to America, and it’s something I take very seriously.
I don’t dumb down the coverage at all, because it’s a very sophisticated soccer audience. But because I’m across things that are happening in America, I can throw in, without forcing it, the odd analogy to American sports on something that happened during the week. I remember Marshawn Lynch, “I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” so I said that Jose Mourinho, instead of being so modest, should have just said at his press conference “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.” And that seems to resonate really well with an American audience. Again, I don’t think you need to force it all the time, because you’d tire people out a little bit, but I think it’s an advantage that I have, what I’m aware of, and it’s something that I enjoy, the ability to kind of link the two countries together.
Thanks to Arlo for his time. He’ll be hosting Premier League Live starting at 7 a.m. on NBCSN Saturday ahead of NBC’s coverage of Aston Villa-Chelsea (7:45 a.m., NBCSN), Arsenal-Watford (10 a.m., NBCSN), Norwich City – Newcastle (10 a.m., USA) and Tottenham – Liverpool (12:30 p.m., NBC). All times Eastern. You can follow Arlo on Twitter at @arlowhite.