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June 27, 2014 at 1:51 PM

‘It’s great to know that I’ve been as big a part of the Sounders broadcast as anybody else.’

One of the difficult things about leaving the Sounders FC beat for The Seattle Times is there were a few stories out there I still wanted to tell. One of them is a little outside the box, involving broadcaster Ross Fletcher, who has now been the Voice of the Sounders longer than anyone else.

Kevin Calabro (2009)
Arlo White (2010-11)
Ross Fletcher (2012-current)

I still caught up with Fletcher for a short interview before leaving had it been for a story, the chat likely would have been longer, but here is a transcript:

*     *     *

(What does it mean to you to now be the longest tenured Sounders FC broadcaster?)

“I don’t really think of it like that. For me, this is two and a half years, and I think two and a half years is a drop in the ocean when I consider my first play-by-play role for the BBC, I was taking over for a guy who had been doing it 26 years. So two and a half is, at the moment, just a couple nicks up a couple-meter long pole, if you like. But it’s great to know that I’ve been as big a part of the Sounders broadcast as anybody else, at least as long as anybody else, building off of my old buddy Arlo.”

 

(As you just mentioned, broadcasters can sometimes stay with a team so long they really become the voice of a generation of fans. Is that something you think about when you start a new broadcasting job with a team?)

“Yes and no. When I was at Derby County back in the U.K., I did day games for eight years, and one season kind of rolls into the next. If you enjoy it, you don’t really think about that too much. It’s more than a job, and you realize that fans — if you’re good at what you do — really appreciate that, and you can build something. I think I built something back there before I went on to do my national play-by-play, and I’ve always enjoyed being part of a club fabric. I think that’s something special about that, something that you look forward to every day when you come to training. It’s like a family, it’s like a community, and it really is here in Seattle. That’s been a really attractive part of it. You think of the Mariners play-by-play guy, Dave Niehaus, he did it for 35 years or something like that. He’s a legend here. I don’t think I’ll ever achieve legendary status, I’m just a British guy who screams goal, but it’s nice to be able to build something. But as I’ve said, I’m very much at the start of it.”

 

(The “Voice of the Sounders” really seems to apply in your case. You do so many local radio interviews and have undertaken a very important public voice of the team outside of your play-by-play duties. Did you anticipate it being as much a part of the job as it is? And how have you taken to it?)

“Yeah, I always thought that would be a big part of the job, probably just as big as calling the games. Most people, obviously, are most interested in what happens on Saturday night at 7 o’ clock at night, but for me, a big part of coming here was to help grow the game. And I think you’ve got to do more than just show up on a Saturday for 90 minutes. Soccer is already big here in Seattle, but it’s still a massively untapped resource in so many other areas. I think the wider broadcasting situation is one that you can jump into and explore further. So I love it. I’m a broadcaster, I love the sound of my own voice, don’t I? (laughs) … But I love being out there and finding people who maybe haven’t tapped into the game yet, educating them a little bit, exciting them a lot, hopefully, and getting them to come to their first game. I always say to TV and radio executives that I meet in and around Seattle, ‘If you’ve never been to a game, come on, this Saturday is a great day to come along.’ So it starts with the executives at the TV and radio stations all the way down to the listener, and I love being part of trying to be something more than just a 90-minute guy on Saturday. I think it’s so important to help grow the game and leave your mark that way.”

 

(One of the challenges of my jobs is wanting to appeal to everyone, from the soccer diehards, and not dumbing anything down for them, to the novices, and not overwhelming them or confusing them with overcomplicated wording. How do you handle that balance when calling a game?)

“I haven’t really changed my approach that much from when I was with the BBC, because it’s just a broadcasting staple. Once thing I always learned was to K.I.S.S. the listener or the viewer — not literally — but part of the BBC training was K.I.S.S. the audience: Keep It Simple, Stupid, or Keep It Short and Sweet. The broadcaster, whether you’re doing it for a World Cup game to millions of diehards or an Open Cup game to thousands of people, you’ve got to be on the same level and you’ve got to make it accessible to everybody. You always start with the basic tenet of keeping it simple, because you want your broadcast to be accessible to as many people as possible. So I’ve never tried to be a niche, diehard soccer broadcaster. I’ve never tried to be so simple and explain what a corner might be, because you can see it and you can absorb it and the more you watch it, the more you’ll understand it. I think the simple answer is you’re trying to be all things to all men, and the best broadcasters are able to do that. They have an ability to connect with their audience on a personal level, a human level, while also maintaining that level of education for both the first-time viewer and giving the high-level analysis that the soccer aficionado really wants to hear.”

 

(One thing you often hear about broadcasts, perhaps more so in this league, is the relative objectivity and subjectivity of the announcers. Some around MLS have been harshly criticized for being too much of a homer, for lack of a better term, to the point of hurting the broadcast. How do you balance knowing your audience is perhaps 95-percent pro-Sounders but still being able to appreciate the excellence of the opponent’s goal?)

“Again, it goes back to 16 years of grounding with the BBC, where you’re honest, you’re impartial and you’re without malice. If you go back and watch any of the broadcasts that I’ve done, hopefully you’ll notice that I can get just as excited for an opponent’s goal because I appreciate the quality of the moment. That’s so important, that you don’t denigrate what the opposition has done, because they might have done something just as exciting as the Sounders have. Again, part of building the excitement of the game is to appreciate both sides of it. The Sounders aren’t always going to score and not concede. You have to appreciate quality wherever it is. My role as the Sounders broadcaster is to look at everything from a Seattle point of view, because as you say, 95 percent of the audience is Seattle. If Seattle has scored a goal, why have they done so well? If Seattle concede a goal, what have they done that they could have done better? But appreciate the fact that the opposition has done well. So you aim to be honest, impartial, not biased, because if you’re biased, you lost your credibility. If you start saying things that aren’t necessarily true, people see through that quite easily, because people are soccer savvy. So it’s always about appreciating the quality from both sides of things, but you’re always looking about it from a Sounders point of view, and how does it affect the team one way or another.”

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