It's "Inside the Football Media" week at Bleacher Report, and Day 5 brings an interview with NBC Sports lead commentator Arlo White, who covers Premier League matches for the U.S. network from a U.K. base.
Bleacher Report: Hi, Arlo. Were you one of those kids who used to kick a ball around with your own commentary running over the top?
Arlo White: Leicester fans in the old East Stand at Filbert Street would have been pretty irritated by my antics in my early teens. I used to commentate live on all the games I went to, pretending I was John Motson. It coincided with a period when Leicester were absolutely atrocious, so goals were very important. When one went in I would screech a high-pitched reaction.
Years later I was playing one back through my HiFi system when a mate came round. He said he didn't realise Leicester were playing that day. I told him it was me, and he complimented my commentary style—said I was actually pretty good. That meant a lot to me and gave me a lot of confidence.
B/R: How did you get your first break in the business?
AW: I was given an opportunity at BBC Radio Derby by a guy called Colin Gibson, who now works for Derby County. He gave me a job covering non-league football, and I would commentate on teams like Alfreton Town. I collected all the tapes together, then I went travelling to Australia and got a job on radio there—a voluntary gig. I also picked up some writing stuff there.
I used all that experience and applied to BBC Radio 5 Live when I returned to England. I was stunned to be offered a six-month deal soon after.
B/R: Who are the commentators you most admire or have influenced you the most?
AW: Mottie was great, but I always loved Barry Davies for the fact he was a multi-sports man. You'd hear him at Wimbledon, at the Olympics and covering football too.
In my role at 5 Live, I remember doing an FA Cup semi-final weekend. There were hours of broadcasting around the game, and Barry was alongside me. It was just brilliant. He actually brought these beautifully presented, handwritten notes with him. They were utter perfection. You have to mention guys like Martin Tyler and Clive Tyldesley as well. Both of those are great at what they do.
B/R: It's NBC's first season of Premier League coverage in the U.S., and it's worked out rather well in terms of the narrative, wouldn't you say?
AW: It's fallen beautifully for us. I don't think we could have predicted how special this season would be, though there were hints something would unfold with Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement bringing in a new era. You got a sense, but you couldn't imagine the stories we've had. Every weekend there seems to be a massive match. Each one is the biggest we've had.
B/R: How do you prepare for commentary duties?
AW: I tend to lock myself away from Tuesday onward. I chat to people on the phone, read papers and scour the Internet. I also watch games of the teams who'll be playing in the game ahead.
With the really big teams—the likes of City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and United—you cover them so much you get an innate sense of what's going on. I've got Norwich this weekend, however, and I haven't seen them for a while. I have my own system for players, and it's a painstaking process to put together.
I'm looking at storylines for every player and at interesting statistics. I love bringing a historical perspective. Maybe be in the late 1800s these two teams played for the first time, and there was a terrific early game. You have to prepare for the worst 0-0 draw you've ever seen.
B/R: Is it easy to be balanced when you know the majority of viewers are focused on one of the two teams playing?
AW: You have to call it down the middle. Everybody knows Man United are the big story in football right now, but it's my job to reflect both sides of their game against Norwich this weekend. You also have to remember there are plenty of viewers tuning in hoping to see the bigger team get beaten!
B/R: Is there a downside to what seems like a dream job?
AW: All potential downsides are outweighed massively by being in this incredibly privileged position. Were I not alongside Tim Howard for the Liverpool-Man City game, I'd have been watching at home. I wouldn't have been at the stadium for a remarkable match that coincided with the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough.
You do spend a lot of time on road, and on trains, but the positives make up for it. It's my dream job. The excitement starts three hours before the game, with banter flying around between the pundits, commentators and staff. Then you watch the stadium fill. And then the real work starts, an hour before the game when the teams come out.
To read the rest of Bleacher Report's "Inside the Football Media" series, click on the links below.
- Day 1: Ollie Holt talks about life as a football writer
- Day 2: Gary Lineker on Match of the Day, Stats and TV punditry
- Day 3: Guillem Balague on writing Messi's biography
- Day 4: Getty Sport's Richard Heathcote on life as a football photographer
- Day 5: LFC TV's Claire Rourke on working for the club she loves
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