Seattle Sounders FC play-by-play commentator Arlo White (right) speaks with Seattle reporter Steve Clare.
Seattle Sounders FC

Q&A: Sounders FC announcer Arlo White

Just four matches into his Sounders FC broadcasting career, former BBC announcer Arlo White is finding a home in Seattle. Early in his tenure, fans have embraced the Leicester-raised White, commending him on his knowledge of the game and his intelligent, succinct commentary.

A cricket announcer by trade, White has also called soccer matches in his native England and has broadcast five Super Bowls for the BBC Radio Sport. reporter Andrew Winner spoke with White about his career, the authenticity of a Brit in the booth and his affinity for Casey Keller. Someone told me you recently used the word “pedantic” in a broadcast. Are you trying to bring some English civility to American soccer broadcasts?

AW: Not intentionally. I suppose being a former cricket announcer, my vocabulary may have improved somewhat. I certainly wasn’t Oxbridge educated, I can guarantee that. It is just words I would use in general, day-to-day conversation.  I did say—I think it was after one of the early games—where I used the word “shambolic.” It seemed to cause a bit of a stir. People weren’t really aware of the word, but once they heard it they know exactly what it meant. If people are interested, then we might have some fun.

WATCH: Arlo White calls a Sounders game-winner What’s the feedback you have been getting? What have you heard from your first few games and how do you receive it?

AW: Every now and again, I do tweet a bit. I think Twitter is a fascinating medium. You can keep in touch with people and it’s a good way for people to give you feedback—good and bad.

I don’t go seeking too much of it, because in my industry if you completely rely on what people say on message boards you are setting yourself up for a fall.  The cricket world is a very harsh world of people who would rather be doing your job and are slightly envious. They are going to be down on you quite a lot. That’s what I found when I was over there. If people say nice things, that’s great. The most important feedback is from the bosses at the club. If they’re happy, I’m happy. An English accent seems to add more authenticity to a broadcast. Why is that?  

AW: I’ve seen it from the other side of the fence, because I’ve commentated or announced five Super Bowls for BBC Radio. An English voice can sound a bit odd, even to English people. There were one or two complaints of “We don’t need an Englishman commentating on this game; it’s an American game.”  I made sure to use the parlance of the game. I used the terminology from that sport. It was always a first down. It was always a touchdown. It was always a field goal. It was always a kick off.

Does it add more authenticity?  I don’t know. There is a language to every sport. The more that can be used, the better, I suppose. Particularly in the last 10 years, more people watch English Premier League—and don’t forget that when people here are watching their La Liga or Serie A from Spain or Italy or the Bundesliga from Germany, they are hearing English commentators as well.

Do they use those phrases in France and Italy and Spain and Germany? We don’t know, but the perception over here is they do because you’re hearing English-based commentators commentate on European games. So (English) has become the language of the sport, rightly or wrongly. In Seattle, the games are a radio-TV simulcast. How have you adjusted to that?

AW: It’s very early. The first two games that we did were radio only. If anything, there might be a tendency to talk too much. I think I’ll adjust as time goes on and let the pictures do the talking; let it breathe a little bit. If I had a criticism of myself from the first broadcast, that would be it. You’ve spent a lot of time getting to know this Sounders FC team. What is one thing they do well and do they have one flaw that they need to correct?

AW: I’ll tell you what they do well.  They have a real spirit about them. They have a drive. Even if they’re not playing necessarily well and the passes aren’t as crisp as they could be, they’re always trying to get forward. They don’t seem to me to be a team that just sits back and allows another team to dictate the game. That’s an excellent foundation for a good team.

What could they improve upon after the first few games? Well you just have to listen to what Sigi (Schmid) says.  Sigi Schmid is constantly talking about the passing, retaining possession. It needs to improve and they’re working on it on a daily basis. If there’s a flaw at the moment, I think it is retaining possession.

You could see against Real Salt Lake that after (Steve) Zakuani scored to give the Sounders the lead, for the next ten minutes Real had the ball for what seemed like they had 80 percent of the ball. Who have you gotten to know on the Sounders team? When you need insight, who do you talk to?

AW: I have a natural affinity for Kasey Keller because he played for my team, Leicester City. I’ve seen him play many times and I’ve had a few chats with him. Steve Zakuani as well—because he’s an Englishman, we take towards each other I suppose.  Tyrone Marshall is always up for a good chat. Ozzie Alonso I had a good chat with last week. Sigi himself is very open to having a conversation.

In terms of relationships with them, it’s early days and I need to prove myself to them. Certain things they say to me are in confidence. I need to prove to them that I know the game and that will take our relationships to another level. Final question: are you a better cricket player or soccer player?

AW: I’d like to think I was a better footballer than a cricketer, but I did play at a higher level in cricket than I did in football. In football I got looked at by Leicester City and Notts County when I was 15, but I think people realized I was too slow and too thin. My best position was center half, but when you are nine stones (126 pounds) you’re not going to be a very effective man marker. In cricket, I played for Leicestershire; I played for my county. About the same I’d say.

I do miss playing though. My various jobs have prevented me from playing any competitive sport and I do miss it.