Journalist Rafi Kohan spent the majority of 2015 crisscrossing the United States to visit over 30 arenas across the country. Kohan’s new book “The Arena” showcases the intricate world of the venues from tailgating to mascots to ticket scalping and Wrigley Fields’ love for urinal troughs.
“The weirdest thing that I found was the degree to which the Chicago Cubs fans, male fans in particular, love peeing in the urinal troughs at Wrigley Field,” Kohan told Amplify. “When they went through recent renovations at the ballpark the marketing department discovered while doing surveys with the fans that that was one thing that they could not touch. They must leave the urinal troughs. It’s because it is a kind of right of passage. You bring your son, you want your son to pee in the trough.”
The book’s subtitle, “Inside the tailgating, ticket-scalping, mascot-racing, dubiously funded, and possibly haunted monuments of American sport” is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the stories laid out in Kohan’s book. The 400-plus pages are filled with real-life characters whose lives revolve around these stadiums, photos from all over the country and facts that prove and disprove some of the myths surrounding these places.
“One of my major takeaways from this book is that we’re told time and again stadiums are so good for economic activity and that it will benefit the city in all these ways, and the bottom line is all the evidence suggests stadiums are not good economic drivers,” Kohan explained.
After spending months on research and working with economists, Kohan found the consensus to be that when a city foots the bill for an arena the best case scenario is typically breaking even. More often than not, he said, there is a net negative.
“We need to be having more honest conversations about these things and hopefully sports teams and politicians aren’t giving us bogus economic statements,” Kohan said. “Which isn’t to say there isn’t value in having a stadium or an arena. Obviously, it is awesome to have these kinds of events that make a difference in terms of quality of life. For a lot of places, having a team or an arena is a matter of civic pride. It makes you feel good about your town.”
Kohan, who grew up in New Jersey, recalls having an emotional connection to the old Yankees Stadium. He spent his younger years attending games with his father and high school friends.
“For older stadiums, the appeal is a connection to history. It tethers us to the past, to generations gone by,” Kohan said. “There are the traditions of the team or of the stadium. I think memory wraps itself around these physical spaces. They take on a life of their own. It seeps into the concrete and when you go back there, you feel that.”
Throughout 2015, Kohan visited some of the country’s oldest sports facilities including the now defunct Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit. After suffering a large tear during a storm in 2013, the Silverdome’s fabric roof deflated and the stadium fell into disuse. Kohan toured the neglected space two years later writing “It felt like walking into a post-apocalyptic wonderland.”
As a result, Kohan spent time speaking with the National Trust for Historic Preservation about getting the HoustonAstrodome named to the National Register of Historic Places.
“They are getting into the idea of these places as worth saving as historical sites. As a country, we’re too quick to tear these places down,” Kohan said. “In a lot of ways, stadiums have become our signature civic buildings especially as much money as we are pouring into them. They should have a legacy. They should last. It doesn’t say anything good about us when we are building stadiums for planned obsolescence.”
Kohan also spends his time in the book getting to know the unsung heroes of the arena world. In one chapter, the writer details a night helping the changeover crew at the Prudential Center in New Jersey transform the arena from an ice hockey rink to a concert venue. Kohan traveled to Atlanta to watch legendary groundskeeper Ed Mangan, who handles fields for the NFL’s Super Bowl, in action.
“I’ve always been a sports fan and I’ve always loved going to games. It was all those things around the game that I also paid attention to and noticed. From the ticket scalpers outside to the grounds keeper’s rake in the dirt to the mascots running around and the fans high-fiving each other or occasionally punching each other in the face,” Kohan said. “It was all these things that made the game day experience so much more thrilling to me. When I started thinking about a book, spending a year traveling around the country and visiting these places and embedding with these unsung heroes was really appealing to me.”
“The Arena: Inside the Tailgating, Ticket-Scalping, Mascot-Racing, Dubiously Funded, and Possibly Haunted Monuments of American Sport” was released earlier this month by Liveright, W.W. Norton & Company imprint, and can be purchased in hardcover or as an ebook on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.