Catching up with Rob McAllister
Welcome to the first installment of my (hopefully) weekly series of "Catching up with..." where I'll interview someone from the soccer community, usually from the Sacramento area, in order to really pick their brain.
With this series, I'm more interested in getting to really know the people involved with soccer in the area than I am in talking about the sport specifically. That doesn't mean that we won't discuss soccer, just that I think it's important to really understand who the people are who make a difference in our soccer community.
Typically, I'll ask each person five questions about themselves, but I may change this depending on the amount of space I have or the feedback I receive. Each interview will be edited for clarity.
Participating in the first-ever "Catching up with..." is Rob McAllister. I know him as that guy in the press box who prepares more than anyone else, but you likely know him as the voice of Sacramento Republic FC.
The 6-foot-3 Rocklin High School graduate and former Sierra College Basketball player began as the play-by-play announcer for the Republic in their inaugural season of 2014. Along with partner Kevin Goldthwaite, the 2004 Cal Poly grad has formed a team on one of the best broadcasting teams in the USL. The pair helped Franklin Productions win an Emmy for their coverage of the 2014 USL Final, which aired on CW31, setting the stage for the Republic's television broadcast contracts that followed.
McAllister got his start broadcasting when he transferred from Sierra College to Cal Poly, where he called basketball, baseball, and yes, soccer. The 34-year-old then worked for ESPN, CBS, KFBK, and several other broadcasting stations before taking on the Republic job.
McAllister was kind enough to sit down (this is just a dumb saying, we spoke over the phone) with me Sunday night to talk about what drives him as a broadcaster. We'll skip the customary "thanks for joining us" and "great to be here" lines so that you don't have to read them.
Me (should this be "Me," "Evan Ream," "Ream," or something else? I really don't know): How did you get roped into soccer? Was doing soccer ever something you saw yourself doing or could imagine yourself doing?
McAllister: I was always fascinated by play-by-play [commentary]. I remember watching Marv Albert doing games with [Michael] Jordan in the playoffs, and I was just enamored with that. That's what I wanted to do. Cal Poly didn't have a great program, but what it had was a ton of opportunity.
I had a lot of friends who played soccer, but I played basketball and baseball growing up. Ever since I was a little kid, baseball and basketball were it. That was all I wanted to do. My parents, they didn't really push me towards anything but they weren't going to push me towards other things because I was so enamored with that. Especially when I was growing up, it was very pushy -- you played one sport. It was like the Tiger Woods kind of era, where it was like if you wanted to be good at something you played one sport. Obviously that idea's gone away. Even playing two was sort of a big deal. I played two growing up. Soccer wasn't really in my hemisphere at all. I was fine with watching it here and there.
At Cal Poly, that first fall semester doing games for radio, and then we did Internet radio. We really started [Internet radio at Cal Poly]. No one had done it before, so we did Internet broadcasts. They were received very well because parents were listening and all that stuff. The first game was doing soccer. I was doing it with a buddy of mine. Neither one of us played soccer. He's now an assistant basketball coach in Arizona for a college but neither one of us had soccer experience. The team's camera was right next to us, just for whatever reason and they would say, "Hey we started watching our game film with the sound on, listening to you guys." I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I know nothing about soccer." They're like, "No, but you know sports. It's fun. It's cool. Some things you guys do wrong, but it's not a big deal." That kind of really gave me a lot of confidence that I could sort of do anything.
I didn't do soccer from that moment on, honestly. It was all the other sports. When I got the opportunity when [Republic Vice President of Communications Erika Bjork] and [Republic President Warren Smith] pretty much asked, and I said, "yes." There wasn't even a hesitation. Absolutely I'm going to do this. It was sort of framed as this YouTube TV type stream thing. I'm like, "I don't care, I'll do it." I loved the energy about them. I liked working with them. So of course, we'll make this work. It turned out to be way more than this YouTube online stream.
Me: Do you have a favorite goal call?
McAllister: I don't have a particular one. I used to say "Goal Sacramento!" but I don't really say that anymore. It's interesting because I went back and listened to all the highlights and I was like, "Oh my gosh, we were so bad in 2014. That was so terrible." Even just from last year to this year it's [more] comfortable. So I think I'm trying to develop that goal call. I don't want it to be something that's every time the same because I feel like, especially in soccer, every goal is so different. Whereas I feel like, more times than not, a 3-pointer in basketball is a 3-pointer. You know? I just feel like there's so much difference [in soccer]. I don't know if I have a favorite [goal call] or one that I go to. What I'm really trying to do now is master that description and feeling in the moment of each goal because some goals are big goals, some goals, it's 3-0 and doesn't matter. I think it just kind of depends on the moment because it's not scripted and it doesn't sound scripted. I think that's the one thing Kevin and I have done from day one, is sort of let any game be what it is and not try to make it something that it is or isn't.
Me: How do you improve or what steps do you take to improve on the broadcast?
McAllister: A lot of it is, for me, it's funny because people ask me if I caught this game or that game. I say, "No, because I've been watching soccer." I think the more I watch it, the more I love the sport and really appreciate it. For me, I watch EPL, I watch MLS a lot, most of the English speaking leagues. I try to watch highlights of different goals and how different announcers are calling it.
While I do love other leagues, my biggest thing is watching more of the American leagues because I want to have that style. I don't want to become an English-style broadcaster. This is the United States. Let's call it how we would call it here. For me, John Strong and Arlo White are the two guys I really like watching the most, but there are some other ones I kind of follow. I really just try to watch a ton of soccer, and I see how it's called, pace of it, how they call goals, all that kind of stuff.
Me: What's your relationship with Kevin Goldthwaite like? Are you guys close off the field? Do you guys hang out together?
McAllister: Honestly, I think we have a really good relationship. To say that we hang out, no, he's got a young family, so for him, he's focused on that. We definitely talk several times a week, typically about a game. Other times, as well, we've gone on trips together, whether it's Portland for the MLS All-Star game, or even to Reno recently. We go have beers or lunch every once-in-a-while. During the season, we're pretty much focused on what can we do to make the broadcast better.
I always tell the story, sort of the first time that we met was literally I think four days, maybe three days before our first broadcast at Hughes Stadium. You never know what kind of partner you're gonna have. I said to him, "Hey look man, for me, I know we're sort of just on this YouTube stream, we don't know what this is quite yet. My goal is I want to be the best in the USL." He looked at me and said, "That's great, but I want to be the best in MLS."
At that moment, that's my guy. I want someone who's as driven as I am to be better and improve, who doesn't just take this as another game. He does work on it to get better. I give him a ton of credit for never being behind a mic in that situation and very few people would know that this is his first broadcasting job ever. It's been a great partnership. He teaches me a lot the intricacies about the sport, where I sort of teach him the technicalities of broadcasting. It's been great.
Me: Switching it up here, what is your prediction for the rest of the Republic season? Take this question in any way you choose.
McAllister: (Laughs) What can I say? I truly believe, just based on the appearance from [MLS Commissioner Don Garber] and the words that he said during that rally that Sacramento will be appointed an MLS team. I think that that will further invigorate this community to rally around this club. It's something that Sacramento truly created, and I think that it will sort of translate on the pitch as well. We have a really young team and a team that I do like because I think that they fight. I think they were sort of seen on the outside as young, new guys who don't know what they're doing, but I think it's a team that we may see some of these players for the next several years and possibly, hopefully in MLS. Overall prediction, I believe we'll be appointed an MLS franchise and this team, whether or not they do deep in the playoffs, I think they'll at least make the playoffs.
Rob McAllister will be back on the broadcast on Wednesday when the Republic host Real Monarchs SLC. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_McAllister.