Before the English Premier League season kicks off, NBC Sports' Arlo White shares his tips for getting into the global game.

By Jacob Feldman
August 09, 2019

You don't just watch soccer. You get into it, like Pink Floyd or origami. 

While you can tune in every couple years for a World Cup, true futbol fandom requires understanding Europe’s various leagues and international competitions, grasping a foreign set of financial rules, and accepting a different athletics culture on and off the pitch. (Oh, there’s the vocabulary difference as well.)

“You might need a nice new alarm clock” too, says NBC’s lead Premier League play-by-play voice Arlo White. The season kicks off Friday at 3 p.m. eastern, but most matches take place on Saturday, beginning with 7:30 a.m. eastern starts. There’s a benefit to the wonky times, though. “If you do have a young family, it’s a way of families gathering in one place,” White said. “It can be a communal, uniting sort of experience.”

Amidst an “absolutely bonkers” week stuffed with media days, preseason planning sessions, and transfer rumors, White shared a few tips for first-time fans:

1. Don’t pick a team right away. “If you haven’t picked a team yet, I’d give it a few weeks,” he said. With relegation and promotion in the English Premier League, you don’t want to get stuck falling in love for a team destined to sink out of the top division. (If you do prefer rooting for the little guys, ESPN+ offers full access to the country’s second-tier teams in the EFL). “I’m not suggesting outrageous bandwagon jumping,” White said. “But bare in mind, the bigger the club, the more likely they are to stay in the Premier League.”

And if you are starting from scratch, it might be worth taking a look at Chelsea, which plays Manchester United Sunday at 11:30 a.m. This offseason, the team added 20-year-old American Christian Pulisic. 

2. Tune in to NBC’s coverage. That’s “first and foremost,” White said. The EPL has emerged as the highest-rated domestic league in the states due to the obvious English-speaking connection, a competitive set of teams, cultural similarities, and because of NBC’s top-notch production. This year, the league also made things slightly better for the American audience with an improved slate of games coming to NBC, thanks to some corporate synergies that are for discussing another time.

3. Find reliable writers. White equated The Athletic UK’s launch and immediate talent grab with a soccer club that has had “a fantastic transfer window.” While the subscription sports journalism site’s underlying business model remains unproven, its new cast of dozens of soccer writers could provide a one-stop shop for curious Americans. White also recommended BBC’s coverage, The Times’ Henry Winter and The Telegraph’s Sam Wallace—as well as, of course, White’s colleagues at NBC.

(Obviously SI’s Planet Futbol offers unmatched soccer coverage, but you already knew that.)

4. Be careful with rumors. An NFL fan when he’s not calling matches, White has come to see how American football news is dominated by a select group of trusted insiders. In England, however, the tabloid press reigns, to say nothing of the online masses. During the league’s transfer period, which ended Thursday, “It’s hard to know what’s the truth and what’s pure speculation,” White said. “You have to be careful of taking something as gospel.... Take a lot of it with a pinch of salt.” That same skepticism actually wouldn’t hurt for fans of American sports, either.

Extra Time: With all of the talk about how American sports could benefit from European staples like relegation or on-jersey advertisements, I asked White what one thing he’d bring over from U.S. athletics for the EPL…

“I was speaking with Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City manager,” White responded, “And I asked him after how long into a game does he realize whether his game plan is working or not. He said about 10 minutes. But if you realize you’ve got to change something, it’s a nightmare because no one can hear you. 

“What I’m saying is, I’d love for managers to be able to call a timeout like in basketball. That would be anathema to 99% of the football-watching public—It’d be an excuse for broadcasters to slip in a commercial, and then where does that end—but I’d love to see a 30-second timeout option.”

SIGHTLINES

• Ryen Russillo has signed an exclusive deal with The Ringer, where he’ll do a thrice-a-week podcast this football season.

• The Pat McAfee empire continues expanding. Beyond calling college football games for ESPN, he’ll have a daily show on DAZN and Westwood One.

• NBC Sports Washington debuted a “Predict the Game” feature during Thursday night’s preseason matchup with the Browns.

• USA Basketball exhibition games are coming to Twitch.

• AI-driven sports highlights company WSC Sports, which partners with the NBA and others, has now raised nearly $40 million.

THANK YOU, INTERNET…

...for John Mayer press conferences.

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