When Chicago Fire executives sat down to figure out a strategy for the 2020 broadcast team, they landed on a couple ideas. One, they wanted to have a national-quality broadcast at a local level. And two, they wanted to “take big swings.”
But, when the rumors first surfaced that the Fire were looking to add Arlo White—the Arlo White—to the club’s broadcast team, many fans figured there was no chance. After all, White is the lead voice on NBC’s Premier League coverage, and at this point in his career, he’s one of the most famous soccer announcers on the planet.
So how did the Fire sell him on the idea? Turns out, a chance meeting at a bar twelve years ago would hold the key.
Phoenix, February 2008
A few days before David Tyree made his spectacularly awkward helmet catch to help the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, a young Major League Soccer employee—who was in Phoenix for the game—decided it was time to eat.
“Myself and a colleague went for lunch at Majerle’s Sports Grill – shoutout Thunder Dan! – and Arlo overheard us talking about MLS and introduced himself,” said Sean Dennison, who worked in the MLS league office at the time. “He was there calling the Super Bowl for the BBC. I remember enjoying our chat and exchanging contact info.
“He was interested in exploring opportunities in MLS. I’m originally from Canada and had gone through the work visa process earlier in my career. We stayed in touch afterwards and I remember speaking with him about work permits and visas. Two Commonwealth guys figuring out how to work in football in the U.S.”
White did get a job in MLS, after all. He joined the Seattle Sounders as the club’s play-by-play voice at the start of the 2010 season, and he continued to impress his friend he met in Phoenix, who was busy working his way up the MLS corporate ladder.
“I remember being excited when he joined Seattle and then watching him become the best call in the League,” Dennison said. “I also remember when MLS became partners with NBC—I was working at the League then—and hearing discussions about Arlo joining NBC for MLS coverage, which made total sense. They had the same idea then that we’ve taken now—you try to align with the best in the business.”
Chicago, Summer 2019
Last summer, when it was becoming clear the Fire would be moving downtown to Soldier Field, the club was considering a new broadcast strategy. Dennison, who was now working as Senior Vice President of Communications and Media for the Fire, decided to shoot a call to that Englishman he met at Majerle’s all those years ago. At the time, it had nothing to do with White actually calling Fire matches. Dennison wanted to see if White, who was now a giant star calling Premier League matches for NBC, would work as a consultant on that new broadcast strategy for the club.
The two caught up over dinner and drinks at LondonHouse in September, when White—a massive Chicago Cubs and Bears fan—was in town to throw out the first pitch at a Cubs game, and watch the Bears take on the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. A month later, at the start of the MLS offseason, the club decided to pursue a new play-by-play voice. That’s when Dennison scrapped the consulting idea, and asked White if would want the play-by-play job himself.
Dennison said White was sold right away. For White, it was an opportunity to work in a city he loves, and has been visiting since he was a teenager.
“His passion for the city shines through when you speak with him,” Dennison said. “He gets a glitter in his eye. It runs deep.”
Dennison pitched the idea of bringing on White to the Fire’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Kyle Sheldon, Club President Nelson Rodriguez, and COO John Urban, who was busy at the time trying to find the club find a new home on over-the-air TV. Everyone loved it, and they had the backing of new owner Joe Mansueto to make it happen.
Over the course of the next few months, they hammered out the details. That’s when White got the the green light from NBC to work Fire matches that don’t interfere with his Premier League or Olympic duties. By February, the deal was done.
“A huge thank you to NBC Sports for allowing him to do this,” Dennison said, gratefully. “Arlo is such a good guy. I’ve heard from a number of people since the announcement was made, many of whom are in the sports world, and to a person it’s been, ‘Arlo’s such a great guy—and he’s the best at what he does.’”
A few weeks ago, Dennison sent White a package filled with new Chicago Fire gear, and White decided to tease fans by putting a split-second shot of him wearing a Fire shirt on his Instagram story, something Dennison insists was “all Arlo’s idea.”
White will partner in the booth with former U.S. National Team star goalkeeper Tony Meola, who Dennison called in January after Frank Klopas stepped down from TV duties to join the team’s coaching staff.
The final piece of the puzzle was finding a voice to call the matches when White was on Premier League duty. Dennison said it was actually Meola who suggested hiring 26-year-old rising star Tyler Terens, because the two had partnered together on a number of broadcasts in the past.
The Fire had its star-studded TV crew, just as the club was about to announce a deal to put all 24 locally broadcast matches on WGN-TV, in addition to streaming on ESPN+.
Terens and Meola will be on the call this weekend when the Fire visit the New England Revolution. White will join the broadcast team in May, in what will surely be an exciting moment for Fire fans.
But it might not have happened if it weren’t for a chance meeting between a young MLS employee and a Chicago-obsessed Englishman at a sports bar named after a Phoenix Suns legend.
“Everything in life comes down to timing, and this was great timing,” Dennison said.