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September 12, 2012 at 11:51 AM

NBC’s Arlo White chats about network broadcasts, the Portland rivalry and more

arlo white mug.jpgSounders FC’s road game Saturday in Portland will be broadcast nationally on NBC. Not the NBC Sports Network on cable, but NBC proper. It’s the first network broadcast of an MLS game since 2008 and our old friend Arlo White will be on the call.

White, who was Seattle’s broadcaster in 2010 and 2011, talked to a handful of local reporters Wednesday morning and here is the transcript of that teleconference:

* * *

(What was it about this meeting between the Sounders and Timbers that led NBC to decide this would be a good first game for a network broadcast?) “Well, the reason that the first game on NBC is so late in the season is because we wanted to get the formula of the show right before we unleashed it onto (network) television. I think looking at the schedule — bear in mind that NBC at the moment gets second choice to ESPN with the current package — it was a no brainer as far as I’m concerned. NBC going into Major League Soccer for the first time, they had to show at least one Cascadia derby between Portland and Seattle. I think the other two had been taken up — one in Seattle, one in Portland — so this one was a no brainer. I think the powers that be, the people that select the games, know exactly how big this match is and what great television, visually and from an audio point of view and from an on-field battling point of view, this game will be. So an easy decision to make I think once that game became available.”

(For those that maybe don’t know, how big is it for an MLS regular-season game to be on network television?) “Well, I think for Major League Soccer it’s absolutely enormous. It’s been a while since Major League Soccer has been able to showcase itself on national (network) television. NBC has a history of quality sports broadcasting, and most recently you saw that in the Olympic Games, which rated very well, and it’s a tough time of day with college football on a Saturday afternoon, of course, but this is a tremendous opportunity for the league to be showcased on this platform. Aside from it being a Seattle home game, which I gather 67,000 potentially for the Portland match, I don’t think there’s a better place to go than Portland for a Portland versus Seattle Sounders game. It’s hugely significant. You expect a massive bump in the audience, and hopefully when the lay sports fan sits around on a Saturday afternoon and jumps across this wild noise and this terrific game that’s going on, they’ll stick with it. It’s going to be a long process, but maybe it’s the first step along the way to converting a few sports fans, or even soccer fans, into Major League Soccer fans, and I think that’s vital.”

(From what you’ve seen of this rivalry, how do you think it stacks up with others that you’ve experienced?) “It stacks very highly … if you define a rivalry by the antipathy between the competing teams and the competing sets of fans. In terms of rivalries it doesn’t have a massively long history compared to the great rivalries around world soccer, but it’s a significant history that spans a couple of generations. I know since supporter culture came in during the 1990s, when it really developed, this rivalry was happening away from the national glare. The spotlight wasn’t on it, but it really was festering and growing into what we know today. I was on an airplane recently, I think it was United Airlines, so I opened the in-flight magazine and … there is a six-page article on the Sounders-Timbers rivalry with Roger Levesque being the central character. And the article in the first paragraph starts off with, ‘Forget Yankees-Red Sox,’ basically saying the Sounders-Timbers rivalry is the biggest and fiercest in U.S. sports. A lot of people who are involved in it know exactly how fierce it is and those who are not familiar with it are about to get their first taste of it on Saturday. I don’t think it will let them down. They will be shocked by the ferocity and the raucousness of the atmosphere on Saturday. As we know, the Sounders are in the ascendency, but Portland can win the Cascadia Cup, so it’s all on the line for both sides.”

(How do we get more of this around the league?) “Good question. We’ve seen big crowds, we’ve seen small crowds, and there doesn’t seem to be a formula for when a certain stadium will be full or not. We’ve seen some excellent crowds in New York — a really good atmosphere for one of their rivalry games against D.C. United earlier on in the season. That was terrific, a 3-2 result in New York’s favor. It was a tremendous game and a tremendous atmosphere at Red Bull Arena. We’ve seen full houses in Philadelphia, and they create a good atmosphere. Sadly, the team hasn’t done particularly well this year, which is a shame. There’s always a decent turnout in Los Angeles from when we head down there. Elsewhere in Houston, we opened up their stadium. That was pretty much a full house and the atmosphere there was terrific. So you’re not seeing full stadiums for every game all around the country, but I think the general gist and the general surge is upwards, and I think that that’s encouraging. The rivalry games with the unbalanced schedule I think add to the building of these rivalries. You’d hope that New England sort of filled their stadium a little bit more for games against New York and against D.C. and against Philadelphia; it doesn’t seem to happen for them. But I think new rivalries are growing all the time. Being on NBC, showcasing this rivalry to the nation, seeing how legit Major League Soccer is, could fuel the flames for further rivalries to catch fire.”

(Can you let us know how many more people will be watching on NBC rather than the NBC Sports Network?) “I wish I could because I’d be interested. The fact is I just don’t know. I know that the figures have gone reasonably well. I still think the league could do better and we could do better in terms of attracting more eyeballs to games. Compared to last season, there has been a bump, and the NBC Sports Network is available in more and more homes. The Olympics would have helped for people to identify exactly where NBC Sports Network is amongst the myriad of channels that people have in their satellite and cable packages. In terms of the eyeballs for an NBC-itself game, I don’t know. I’d be very interested to find out … and I wish I could help you more on that one.”

(You have a lot of fans still up here in Seattle that have seen you cover some huge games this year since leaving the Sounders. How has this year gone for you?) “It’s been pretty extraordinary. I’ve got to tell you that my furniture arrived yesterday from the United Kingdom at 31 months after I first stepped foot in Seattle. I think the pilgrims got here quicker than my furniture to be honest with you. (laughs) … It’s been an interesting transition. Naturally, in a new area, where I’m not part of a club and I’m not part of that family, it’s been a very different experience on the East Coast, but professionally it’s been a very good one. There’s a lot of travel. We’re seeing an awful lot of games. Every week is a road game for us. But as we get to Saturday, I’ve had this game circled on my diary since I learned the schedule I think in early February. I’ve been counting down the days really until Portland and Seattle. The other pinnacle up until now has to be the Olympic Games and the opportunity to go back to my home country, to travel around, to start at Hampden Park, to Old Trafford in Manchester, St. James’ Park in Newcastle, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and, of course, Wembley Stadium, and to cover games was an absolute thrill. The 4-3 victory for the U.S. over Canada thanks to Alex Morgan’s heroics in the 123rd minute would rate amongst one of the better games I’ve ever announced, men’s or women’s games. Whatever gender that game is just flies out the window when you see the quality of that match and the excitement of the end of it. So the Olympics Games and following the U.S. women to the final at Wembley and doing Mexico-Brazil at Wembley with huge audiences back in the United States was an absolutely thrill. When the job was (offered) late last year it was that sort of scenario that was a major attraction going to a national organization like NBC. So it’s been terrific. It’s not been without its challenges away from the microphone and transitioning to the East Coast, but professionally they’re an awesome, incredible organization, who produce wonderful broadcasts and, like I said, being on that national platform has been a real thrill.”

(What have you seen from Eddie Johnson? Had you seen him in England?) “Well, to be honest, I didn’t see him in England. He barely played, did he? It was not exactly a fruitful trip for him over there. He’s had to rebuild it seems from scratch. You look at the terms of the contract he accepted from the Sounders, and it suggests, like a Mauro Rosales if you like, that here’s a guy who’s prepared to step back, take a big hit in the wallet and rebuild his career. Now I wasn’t the only one to raise a couple of eyebrows when the trade was made. I actually spoke to Mike Fucito the other day and he’s been on a bit of an odyssey of his own since that fateful day when he and Lamar were traded away to Montreal in order to have access to Eddie Johnson. Eyebrows were raised because they were two icons, if you like, or cult figures, more like, in Lamar and Mike amongst the Sounders fans — and they had produced off and on over the last couple of seasons. And Eddie Johnson came in, unproven over the last couple of years, and with the reputation of being perhaps a disruptive influence in the locker room. Now you hear maybe coming out of the camp where there have been a couple of tete-a-tetes between Johnson and a couple of Sounders squad members, but it seems to me that things have gone superbly well since his arrival. I know he arrived slightly injured and it took him a while to get going, but 13 goals in a season that is far from done, creating a new record, and then you see how the U.S. struggled with their strikers with their two World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica, if he keeps this up, how can Jurgen Klinsmann possibly ignore him for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala and Antigua? He’ll have to keep it up. He’s sort of on trial — isn’t he? — with his play and his attitude, but it wasn’t long ago when he was part of the U.S. plans under Bob Bradley, and I’m sure what he’s doing now will alert Jurgen Klinsmann, who doesn’t seem to mind picking Major League Soccer players provided they’re very good and they’re in form, and Eddie Johnson is both of those at the moment.”

(Do you think Seattle is better suited for a deep playoff run?) “Yes. Absolutely. I’ve been following the team all season, of course, because away from my duties, obviously I have a tremendous affinity for the Sounders and I’ll always follow their games. I’ve watched most of them. Now when you write a first-choice XI, if you can whittle down all that talent into 11 to send out onto the field, it looks absolutely frightening for the opposition. Mauro Rosales is just wonderful, 13 assists for him so far this year. He just opens up defenses at will and makes everyone around him a better player. Eddie Johnson has sparked Fredy Montero into the form of his life. Is there a better striking duo in MLS? I don’t think so. Zakuani is back on the left-hand side, as well, and to see him burst past Zach Loyd in Dallas was an absolute joy, and then the calmness when he got to the byline to just roll it across to Rosales to put it in — it’s like he was never away. I know there are bigger challenges to come for Steve as he works his way back into his prime form, but the omens appear to be good, and what a bonus for Sigi Schmid. But when you see somebody like Christian Tiffert, who two seasons ago led the Bundesliga with 17 assists — the next best was 11. Thomas Mueller, the German international, was left trailing in Tiffert’s wake two years ago in the Bundesliga. So you see that sort of quality going forward. Now there may be one or two question marks against the defense, but frankly Seattle is always going to score goals. I see them mounting a very, very serious challenge for the Supporters’ Shield for one, but certainly the MLS Cup throughout the playoffs. And I can’t imagine a better setting than 67,000 people in the stadium for MLS Cup, and I’m getting ahead of myself…”

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