Reading: Rafi Kohan

Rafi Kohan

The Arena: Inside the Tailgating, Ticket-Scalping, Mascot-Racing, Dubiously Funded, and Possibly Haunted Monuments of American Sport


Monday, August 28 at 7:00pm
Riotous fan behavior, behind-the-scenes machinations, and madcap histories dominate in this unrivaled exploration of the modern American sports stadium.

The American sports stadium, for all its raucous glory, is an overlooked centerpiece―a veritable temple―of our national culture. A hallowed ground for communal worship, this is where history is made on grass, artificial turf, hardwood, and even ice; where nostalgia flows as freely as ten-dollar beers; where everything thrills, from exploding fireworks to grinning cheerleaders. In The Arena, "an altogether new and riveting sports classic" (Josh Wilker), intrepid sportswriter Rafi Kohan crisscrosses the country, journeying from one beloved monument to the next. As he finagles access to the unexpected corners and hidden corridors of our most frequented fields, he discovers just what makes them tick―and what keeps us coming back time and time again.

Beginning with the "old-timers," Kohan pays his respects to Chicago’s ivy-laced Wrigley and Green Bay’s lovable Lambeau, which have creakily adjusted to the twenty-first century while maintaining those age-old quirks fans have prized for generations. Juxtaposing these cherished time capsules with mighty new mammoths like Dallas’s shiny AT&T Stadium, Kohan examines the often-punishing realities of how they are built, from architectural ambition to controversial funding and political strong-arming.

Meanwhile, just outside the turnstiles of these commercial cathedrals, whole ecosystems flourish, buzzing with charming merch men and cutthroat ticket scalpers. Trips to Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena illuminate such shadow economies, revealing the remarkable impact a team―and even just a single player (yes, we’re looking at you, LeBron James)―can have on an entire city. With infectious enthusiasm and wit, Kohan also explores the behind-the-scenes logistics and deeply ingrained traditions within these bustling facilities, cracking open a secret world of unforgettable characters―groundskeepers, mascots, halftime performers―who work tirelessly to make the live event worth the price of admission.

If you’ve ever wondered how they coordinate those fighter jet flyovers with the national anthem, how many hot dogs they serve in a day at Citi Field, how boozy pregame tailgates are kept in line, or what on earth AstroTurf is made of, look no further. As rowdy and rollicking as its subject, The Arena is a must-read for diehard fans, shameless bandwagoners, umpires, broadcasters, groundskeepers, culture junkies, tailgaters, and anyone else who’s ever eagerly headed off to the ballpark to catch a game.

“[The Arena] covers everything from how those fighter jet flyovers sync with the national anthem to an inside look at the disease that is rabid fandom (in the chapter "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Gross"). Think of it this way: for less than the price of admission to most any of these stadiums, Kohan will let you travel from Wrigley to Lambeau to the Superdome―whose history as both a football stadium and Katrina sanctuary is explored in the excerpt below―in the most American way possible. Without ever having to leave the comfort of your couch.”
- GQ

The Arena is fun because of the author’s wit and style – a kind of gonzo/embedded journalism hybrid…But most importantly it’s fun because it is, metaphorically speaking, a circus mirror reflection of who we are as a nation 'psychologically, economically, politically, culturally, historically.'”
- Christian Science Monitor

“The Arena is an inventive, fast-paced look at what have become our modern shrines in a sports-obsessed society. But it artfully illuminates us - including the often quirky people flocking to these shrines - even more than the structures.”
- Tom Verducci, Best-Selling Author, Sports Illustrated Senior Writer
Rafi Kohan is a freelance writer and editor, and an amateur ivy groomer. Formerly, he served as deputy editor at the New York Observer and has written for GQ, Men’s Journal, Wall Street Journal, Town & Country, ESPN.com, and more. He lives in New York City and deeply misses the old Yankee Stadium.
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