Kohan, a contributing editor at the New York Observer, delivers an addictive, detailed look at the lives of sports arenas—how these increasingly elaborate structures are funded, how they’re maintained, and the kinds of tailgating and sideshow events that take place in and around them. Kohan is a lively, funny writer who eschews theory for experience, venturing to the stadiums themselves and tagging along with the people who give these places life. At the Green Bay Packers’ venerable Lambeau Field, he takes the Lambeau Oath and swears to “drink Wisconsin beers until the cooler is empty”; he nervously assists a chair-stacking acrobat during a halftime performance at a Rutgers University basketball game; and he helps construct the Prudential Center’s ice just before a New Jersey Devils game. Throughout, Kohan exhibits a genuine desire to learn more about even the most overlooked of arena workers, such as Raymond Smith, who used the Louisiana Superdome for sanctuary during Hurricane Katrina and now sells beer there. Kohan’s curiosity and empathy are infectious as he demonstrates how human this corporate aspect of sports can be. He has created an immersive, informative work that will delight and enlighten a wide range of readers. (Aug.)Correction: a previous version of this review listed an incorrect publication month.
Rafi Kohan left out all the good parts in The Arena, but in doing so he’s written an altogether new and riveting sports classic. The In on-field heroism usually at the center of a great sports story fades into the background as Kohan explores the transcendent peaks and musty crevices of our monstrous national temples of communal hope, anger, and joy. A copy of Kohan’s brilliant, funny, illuminating book should be sealed in a vault beside every one of these places we go to yell ourselves hoarse, so that future archaeologists sifting through our ruins can understand who we were and why we gathered together.”
This wide-ranging meditation on the significance of sports in American society views its topic through the ecosphere of the modern stadium or arena. The journey starts at two venerable stadia: football's Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI, and baseball's Wrigley Field in Chicago. These two venues strive to maintain tradition while making necessary updates to keep pace with contemporary reality. The story ends with two decommissioned pleasure palaces in their useless ruin: the Pontiac Silverdome, MI, and the Astrodome, TX. In between, journalist Kohan surveys the current landscape of publicly funded and subsidized palatial dream parks that hold U.S. cities hostage for fear of losing their "big league" status. Kohan embeds himself with several figures involved in stadium life, including ticket scalpers, team mascots, halftime entertainers, grounds workers, and a changeover crew that converts an arena from basketball court to concert stage. Through Kohan's investigation, we see the weight of these expensive monuments in our communities and how they relate to the public expression of not just sports fandom, but who we are as a people. VERDICT A unique and readable perspective on the impact of U.S. sports stadia and arenas.—John Maxymuk, Rutgers Univ. Lib., Camden, NJ
An inside look at the secular cathedrals where we hold our sporting masses—and celebrate with unrepentant excess.In this highly compelling book, New York Observer contributing editor Kohan deeply explores the myriad facets of the places where our sports teams play their games. Part history and sociology, part ethnography, and part journalism—sometimes straight shoe-leather, sometimes participatory, and oftentimes a little bit gonzo—the book features many of the behind-the-scenes questions you have always had and a few that you never considered. What is it like to be a stadium mascot or the halftime entertainment? Or a groundskeeper—and where do they get that turf? How does ticket scalping work in the age of the internet? What happens to a stadium that falls out of use or that never really fulfills its promise to begin with? And how do they deal with all that food and beer? Kohan is an entertaining tour guide, and while his reporting is top-notch, he also takes a deep dive into the literature on stadiums from antiquity to the present. He loves sport but is no fan of stadium boondoggles. He respects the military but wonders about the justification for the increasing amount of jingoistic paeans to the military on game days. His travels took him to stadiums and arenas across the country, from sparkling new gems to old classics like the Big House in Ann Arbor or Wrigley Field in Chicago. The author embedded himself with grounds crews and supervisors, working folks and management, making the most of the impressive access he was granted at facilities across the country. Each chapter takes a kaleidoscopic look at its topic, with the author effectively merging ground-level and bird's-eye views. Kohan brings the modern sporting arena to life in this fine exploration of the "corners of American stadiums that aren't necessarily hidden but are almost assuredly unseen."
Smart, readable, deeply reported and researched, engagingly personal, funny and often surprisingly poignant.
Jay Jennings - New York Times Book Review
Fascinating…comprehensive, accurate, and often quite funny.
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 in the most American way possible. Without ever having to leave the comfort of your couch.”
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
This is an irresistible tour de force that reveals how and why our monuments to games are hard-wired to fans’ most thrilling and heartbreaking memories. A fabulous book.
Kohan answers a central question: If every game is on TV, why do we still shell out hundreds to see them live? Hint: Even in this era of HDTV and disposable stadiums, we still need to be together.
The Arena is a pioneering work of athletic anthropologyand just plain fun.”
Rafi Kohan’s terrific
The Arena sees stadiums as a reflection of ourselves, in all of our glory, all our failings, and all our desires. It also made me want to go to a game, immediately.”
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.”
Fascinating….He comes across as the Studs Terkel of stadium life, demonstrating an easy camaraderie with his sources…It’s his sod-level reporting that animates the book, lending a distinctive blue-collar vibe of bantering co-workers who take pride in jobs well donejobs like painting the logo on a playing field or combing over the bald spots in the ivy-covered outfield walls of Wrigley Field.
Will Blythe - Wall Street Journal