As with Fox and ESPN, now we have NBC insisting on a Brit voice for its soccer telecasts. Arlo White will be their man -- there’s a nice American touch there, he was named Arlo for folk-singer Arlo Guthrie, but he’s from Leicester in England.
I’ve had plenty to say, none of it good, about the Brits used by Fox and ESPN, because in most cases it has been clear that they have been chosen solely because of their accent, and not because of any particular suitability for the job. Come to that, none of them seems to me any better than the leading Americans.
The case of Arlo White is rather different. Because he does know a thing or two about MLS, having been working for the last two seasons as the broadcaster for the Seattle Sounders. I’ve heard a lot of those broadcasts, and have found White to be one of the best MLS commentators around.
His knowledge of the game is more than adequate (I know, that ought to be a given -- but believe me, it is not, not even among all the inarticulate or over-articulate ex-players who clutter the booths these days). He identifies players quickly and clearly. And he maintains a level head.
Broadcasting for Seattle, the most successful team in MLS history at drawing massive crowds, must have been a situation full of the temptation to overhype everything, to play the role of the home announcer to the hilt.
Yet I never recall White doing this. I do recall him being level-headed and presenting an objective view of what was going on down on the field, even during heated moments.
As I say, that could not have been easy. Though there was one factor that greatly helped White to present a sharp, informative, but always up-to-the-second commentary: the fact that he was broadcasting solo. I’m pretty sure that all the times that I heard him, he was on his own.
What a difference that makes. No partner to yak with, to giggle with, to interrupt or be interrupted by, no embarrassing “competitive reminiscences” to use novelist Vladimir Nabokov’s apt phrase. And none of that deadly super-clever analysis that the experts delight in lumbering us with.
What a relief! But it was to be expected that NBC would provide White with a partner. It will be Kyle Martino, coming straight over from Fox, with his good looks, his TV smile, and his strong tendency to talk too much.
Maybe White can teach him to say less, and make it more meaningful. I don’t see why not. Constant -- and often quite silly -- analysis (and these guys prattle on during live action if you please) is what makes most telecasts such a pain in the neck.
We shall see. But there is one highly puzzling aspect of these telecasts. Let me quote from the NBC press release:
“Taking a page from NBC Sports Group’s hockey coverage, which employs an “Inside the Glass” analyst, Martino will be stationed “Between the Benches” during the games with White in the broadcast booth. From this vantage point, Martino will provide the fans with unique field level insight in addition to game analysis.”
Well, good luck with that Kyle. I’m not aware that any country anywhere -- countries that have been soccer telecasts for decades -- have had that shaft of brilliance descend upon them.
For a very good reason. Sitting at field level, on the halfway line, is probably one of the worst seats in the stadium for seeing anything clearly -- unless it happens right in front of you. Whatever Martino’s “Between the Benches” site may be called, it is decidedly not a “vantage point."
Much more like a disadvantage. We always joke when a coach is asked whether he saw a certain play, and he replies “I didn’t get a clear view from my position on the bench, I’ve got one of the worst seats in the house you know.” Plenty of times, he’s simply dodging the question, but he has a point.
His field level position means he has no overview of the game, cannot see positional play at all clearly, or make out patterns of play as they develop, or fail to develop. It also means that he usually has to view the action through a group of players, any one or more of whom is likely to block his line of sight. Perhaps worst of all, the halfway line position selected by NBC means that poor Martino will be around 35 yards distant from both penalty areas, where most of the crucial action happens.
I fear the worst. The only “action” that Martino will be near is the non-stop ranting and raving of the coaches. Fortunately, NBC will get under way with the Red Bulls’ Hans Backe, who is wonderfully serene on the sideline. And FC Dallas' Schellas Hyndman, also a relatively relaxed presence.
Maybe it won’t be too bad. But please, Kyle, spare us the “inside” chats with the coaches. You will surely have learned by now that they rarely have anything interesting to say. (Though a word or two with the referee wouldn’t be a bad idea, should MLS allow you that. Which they won’t.) Good luck, guys!