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Take A Journey Into The Heart Of America’s Favorite Steeples In ‘The Arena’

A book that goes inside the tailgating, ticket-scalping, mascot-racing and possibly haunted monuments of American sports.

Ever wonder why it’s advised to wait until the middle innings of an MLB game to order a hot dog? Or what it would be like to be a “full-time” ticket scalper, and how exactly the business works?  Maybe you’ve marveled over how those fighter jet flyovers are timed perfectly to the National Anthem and wondered how.  Or perhaps you’ve been curious as to what really goes on in those luxury boxes?   

Look no further because sportswriter Rafi Kohan explores these topics and much more in his new widely-acclaimed book, “The Arena:  Inside the Tailgating, Ticket-Scalping, Mascot-Racing, Dubiously Funded, and Possibly Haunted Monuments.” 

The former deputy editor of the New York Observer takes readers inside the hidden inner worlds of America’s most iconic sports arenas. In this fun, humorous, behind-the-scenes exploration of the modern American sports stadium, Kohan discovers the inner-workings of what makes Game Day one of the most exciting and unifying events for fans around the world.    

For one year, Kohan crisscrossed the country on a mission to visit one beloved sports monument after another, interviewing hundreds of people along the way from team owners and stadium employees to mascots, the drunken tailgating fans, scalpers, and countless other colorful characters that make up our Nation’s sports world.

You’ll meet memorable characters such as Big Mike, a ticket scalper who gave Kohan a glimpse into an underground scalping circle. From the Cavs 2016 playoff to the 2015 College Football National Championship, Kohan says that “these guys travel the country together to different games. It’s almost like being in the union.” Of course, you must prove that you aren’t a narc first. 

You’ll get to know entertainers like The Amazing Sladek, a wildly talented circus performer who performs handstands on a tower of chairs at halftime shows; the legendary Ed Mangan, the 25-year vet and demanding head groundskeeper for the Atlanta Braves who also serves as the NFL’s field director for the Super Bowl, and for good reason; and Gorilla Rilla, the Raiders super fan who dragged Kohan through the parking lots during a December tailgate. 

Unfortunately, Star, a local pimp in Cleveland, didn’t make the final manuscript.      

So what inspired Kohan’s journey to write this book?    

As a child growing up in northern New Jersey, Kohan had many sports teams to choose from. After visiting all the local stadiums and attending many hometown games, he became curious about the other aspects of the game that made these bustling facilities larger than life.  He began to take notice and admire the groundskeepers’ perfectly-synced coordination of the YMCA at Yankee Stadium, and wonder when and how often they practiced this routine.  Or was it for these dancing skills they were hired?  He’d look around the stands and see all the fans eating hot dogs, and wonder how many hot dogs does a single stadium consume per game?  He’d step outside and marvel at the drunken tailgaters and wonder when exactly this age-old tradition began. 

“There were just so many other elements to operating a live sporting event, and [I] was always curious how everything aligned to make a game worth the price of admission,” he said.    

This type of experiential and participatory journalism isn’t new to Kohan, who has also contributed to, GQ, Rolling Stone and Wall Street Journal, among others. 

In an article for Slate, he once spent three days rooted inside “a place that has a strong claim on being the most boring space in sports – The Bullpen” during a 3-day homestand between the independent-league baseball teams Newark Bears vs. the Worcester Tornadoes. 

In a feature for GQ, Kohan rode along with an overworked New Orleans Police Department to document all the revelry that happens during Mardi Gras, even spending an evening in jail to capture the full picture of America’s biggest party. 

“I like exploring the unexpected angles when I write,” said Kohan.  “Everyone loves reading and writing about sports, but with this book, I wanted to present a new take and find a different way of viewing sporting events when you go to a game.” 

Rafi makes clear that his book is not a book about sports, but around sports. 

“Sports in general and stadiums in particular offer a unique lens for identifying who we are as a country, as a people, for better or worse,” said Rafi.  “This book is about the cities, the people, the fans, the operations, the subcultures and the characters that represent who we are as Americans, the events that bring us together and the traditions we create as a community.” 
“We live in uncertain times,” concluded Kohan.  “But when there’s a game coming up, we rally around each other.  We unify.  We come together and watch.  And when you go to a game, even if you don’t follow sports, you feel the energy in the stadium and you are consumed by it.  Everyone is a fan on Game Day.” 

And now, everyone will become a fan of Rafi Kohan’s The Arena as the perfect reminder that unity and inclusivity can be achieved so simply by the shared experience that comes from sitting in the stands among the fans of America’s favorite pastime, together, appreciating all the behind-the-scenes work that went into creating what we call, Game Day.

Edited by Jeremy Losak.

Who is Gorilla Rilla?
Created 10/6/17
  1. Phoenix Suns mascot
  2. Pittsburg State mascot
  3. Oakland Raiders mascot
  4. Michigan State mascot

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