Nestled right near the banks of the Mississippi River sits the state-of-the-art FedExForum, an impressive structure that opened in the heart of Memphis in 2004. The city of Memphis owns this beautiful facility, and they should be proud of it.
It basically replaced the infamous Pyramid Arena, where the Memphis Tigers formerly played their home games for over a decade. No one can argue that the Tigers got a huge upgrade by moving to the FedExForum in 2004.
Despite being over a decade old, you get the feeling that it’s still brand new when you walk up to the gates. FedExForum holds over 18,000, but don’t expect that large number to fill the arena for Memphis Tigers basketball. The FedExForum is also shared with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, while also being the site for many of the big events that happen in downtown Memphis.
This is an enormous structure for a college basketball team of any level to play their home games. It somewhat takes away from the intimate feeling you get when attending some of the storied college basketball venues. An interesting part of the design of FedExForum is that it pays homage to Memphis’s rich musical history as there are paintings and other artist renderings all over the building.
As for the building itself, it certainly lives up to the hype of being a modern indoor arena that serves as a great stage for a basketball program that has enjoyed some solid national success over the years.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Prices are steep at FedExForum, but the wide range of choices helps offset that to a degree. There are loads of unique food options, with hummus and pita chips as one example of the unique menu. That interesting item goes for just $5, with other original items like buffalo chicken fries, veggie burgers, and a catfish basket all ranging from $6 to $9.
Beer choices are plentiful throughout the arena as it's not located on a college campus. The classic domestic drafts of Bud Light, Budweiser, Miller Lite, and Coors Light are priced at $8, while the large drafts are $9. Bottled water and fountain sodas are $4, and the big souvenir soda is fairly priced at $7.50. Additionally, there are several beer vendors roaming the concourse to help you avoid the lines, and that's always a fortunate option for the fan experience.
To add to this impressive part of the experience, the concession stands run efficiently and are very sharp looking. In no way should you feel like you're dining at an unsanitary establishment. Slightly high prices for a college sporting event is the only minor issue you may have with this part of the visit.
The enormous structure that is the FedExForum doesn't exactly give you the feeling of being at a college basketball game. It feels more like an NBA experience, but with half the seats filled. If you shrunk the size of FedExForum for Memphis Tigers basketball, then the atmosphere would have that intimidation factor that all of the major college basketball programs strive for when playing in smaller buildings. This tough fact takes away the exclusive feeling you get only when attending college basketball games.
Outside of that, there are plenty of things done to keep the fans engaged and excited for the game. The band regularly plays "Eye of the Tiger" from the Rocky movies, and that song has the effect of even getting the neutral fan pumped up. The t-shirt toss is a stunt you see pulled at virtually every sporting event, but FedExForum puts a nice spin on it by using a t-shirt cannon that spews out about 20 shirts in 20 seconds. These things are flying everywhere, and fans scramble all over the seats to snatch them up.
The team gets introduced with a very flashy video tribute that lasts around two minutes, with the lights dimmed in the arena. This builds up anticipation for the players to be introduced, and it's not something you always see done this well on the college level.
When you're sitting in your seats, you don't have to worry about being cramped up like some of the older facilities. There is an ample amount of leg room to stretch out a bit, and likewise for your arms. It feels like being in a nice theater more than being crammed into a row of seats like sardines, making it a nightmare to even climb back to aisle. The seats themselves are cushiony and comfortable, too.
How can you argue with being footsteps away from Beale Street when exiting FedExForum? It doesn't get more convenient than that. Odds are if you're visiting Memphis for pleasure, you're going to want to see some live Blues music and eat some good food. Beale Street brings you both, and you don't even have to go back to your parked car and worry about navigating throughout the city.
There are several enticing dining options here, but one place I highly recommend is Miss Polly's Soul City Café, which is located on Beale Street. It has the tasty soul food that Memphis is known for and is a good stop for breakfast or lunch as well. If you're wanting more of a live entertainment atmosphere, then you have to go to B.B. King's Blues Club. Their menu is nothing to overlook, and the live music will make for a fun continuation of the night after the game.
To top it off, the Rock N Soul Museum and Gibson Guitar Factory Museum are located right outside the gates of FedExForum. My suggestion is to stay in one of the several hotel options in the immediate area, like the Westin Memphis, and walk everywhere while staying here. It is worth mentioning that it isn't wise to venture too far out into the downtown area as there are plenty of areas that are less safe, like most large cities. As long as you stay in the tourist areas of Beale Street, you will be fine and have a great time.
More and more cities are choosing to build their stadiums directly downtown, and Memphis hit this one out of the ballpark with the location of FedExForum.
The loyal Memphis basketball fans have a real challenge on their hands to get the gigantic FedExForum loud enough to make a huge impact. You can usually expect anywhere from 10,000 to 13,000 fans to attend a Memphis Tigers game, which is a healthy average for a college team. Even a weeknight game should see over 10,000 in attendance, and that's commendable. However, don't expect this team to regularly top the 18,000 capacity number.
Your first perception is that there are a lot of empty seats, especially in the upper deck. The fans are spread out, giving it the appearance that the place is close to being a ghost town of sorts. You can't let that fool you into thinking that this team gets no support from their city. That would simply be a fallacy.
A wide demographic of fans make up this loyal group, and they're definitely knowledgeable. They call their players by their first names, offer opinions on what the team should do and argue plenty of bad calls. They know when to create momentum for their Tigers, and would be even more intimidating in a smaller building where the fans could be closer to the court.
A major headache that you must prepare for when driving into Memphis is the massive amounts of construction going on around the city. It makes for a confusing and sometimes frustrating trip. Finding the arena isn't the difficult part, but figuring out what detour to take to stay on your route can put a damper on the drive.
Once you figure out the construction zones and find your way into the city, you're on easy street. There are several parking options next to the FedExForum, and I highly recommend saving yourself the headache by parking in the garage connected to the Westin Memphis hotel. Pricing can be anywhere from $5 to $15, depending on the size and buzz of the particular game.
The concourses are extremely wide and easy to navigate, even if it is a packed house. There are easy-to-read signs all over the interior to direct you to your section, and there are escalators that will conveniently take you to the upper levels.
Typical games for Memphis basketball will have upper deck seating priced between $7 and $13 if purchased directly from the Memphis athletics website. Certainly fair, but the drastic increase of $20 to $50 comes if you want to sit any closer. That price seems a bit high even to sit at the lower level. Perhaps the building could draw in even more fans if lower level pricing was slightly lowered. Concession prices are also high, even though the food is tasty. Add the likelihood that you will pay around $10 to park, and you're looking at an expensive evening to see a basketball program that isn't nationally considered on the elite level.
The cleanliness and cosmetic appeal of this building earns an extra point. They did an excellent job designing this venue, and it should remain a premiere place to see a big event in this region for decades to come.
A big salute to a military sergeant was done during one of the commercial breaks during my most recent visit, and anytime that kind gesture is extended, you're getting an extra from me. The entire place stood in applause, and I'm guessing they do this quite regularly.
A final extra goes to the efficiency that this place runs at. From the front gate when the tickets are scanned to the necessary security checks, everything runs smoothly. Exiting the arena can usually be a hassle no matter where you go, but it isn't too bad considering over 10,000 people trying to all leave at once. Kudos to the arena staff that has this place operating at such an efficient level.
Cosmetically speaking, there's nothing to not like about FedExForum. It's a beautiful structure that reminds you how far we've advanced in building our sports stadiums, and it's located in a hotbed for tourism. The fan experience is certainly on the high-end, even though the venue seems too large for a majority of college basketball programs. That's a small price to pay considering that the Memphis Tigers still get to have the luxury of calling their home turf one of the nicest and more modern facilities in college basketball.
FedEx Fourm is a great place to watch the University of Memphis Tigers play a basketball game. Even though they play teams that are not that exiting the regular fans are really passionate and the student section is good but it could be better. The food at the FedEx Fourm is really good but just a little bit pricey. The tigers are going to the Big East next year so that will get the fans to want to buy tickets for better games and the student sections will be like a Big East team not like all the other Conference USA Team. GO TIGERS!
FedExForum was conceived around the turn of the century by ambitious Memphians, anxious to keep the NBA in the city. The round, domed arena covers 14 acres with a playing floor that is below ground level. Total capacity is 18,119 for basketball with 1,000 premium seats on the arena floor, 27 courtside suites, 32 club suites, 4 party suites, and 80 club boxes. There is also a full-sized practice basketball court, visible from the lobby.
When the NBA’s Vancouver Grizzlies were given permission to re-locate to Memphis on March 26, 2001, it was believed that the Grizzlies already had a world class, NBA-ready arena, the Great American Pyramid (1 Auction Avenue, Memphis, TN, 38103) at the edge of downtown Memphis. The Pyramid was a natural tie-in between the Bluff City and the ancient Egyptian city after which it was named. At the time construction was opened on November 9, 1991, the structure, at 321 feet tall and with 591 foot base sides, was the sixth-largest pyramid in the world, complete with a cast image of Ramesses the Great standing guard in front.
The venue, nicknamed by University of Memphis basketball fans as the “Tomb of Doom,” originally seated 20,142 for basketball. However, the building was renovated in an effort to accommodate NBA box seats and other standards and seated 19,405 for the Grizz in 2001-’02. Further changes to assuage the NBA dropped capacity to 19,351 from 2002-’04. However, by then, the handwriting was on the wall. Numerous cosmetic and structural changes were deemed mandatory by the NBA, and the cost to continually retrofit the Pyramid exceeded the estimated cost to build a brand new arena fully to NBA specs.
And thus, the germ of an idea that eventually grew into the FedExForum was born.
First, when it became clear that the Pyramid was only a stop gap for professional basketball in Memphis, the New Memphis Arena Public Building Authority was created in 2001 by the City of Memphis and Shelby County to oversee construction of a publically-funded basketball arena. The 13-member committee, with David Bennett as Executive Director, sorted through scores of possible locations and focused on a tract of land in the heart of downtown Memphis, bordered on the North by famed Beale Street. This led to an unholy public outcry from residents who wanted the venue built in the suburbs, preferably out to the East of the city, but their protestations fell on deaf ears. The new arena would be built downtown.
Bids went out and the architectural firm Ellerbe Beckett was named designer. Funding for the arena, which became the largest public works project in the history of Memphis at $250 million, was approved by the Memphis PBA, which issued the bonds necessary to fund construction. The working name of the venue remained simply, “New Memphis Arena”. Included in plans were two 1,500 car parking garages.
Project managers of the construction phase were PC Sports out of Texas. Looney Ricks Kiss (architecture and interior design) and MA Mortenson (general construction) were brought in by PC Sports as consultants on the project. Very early in the design phase, it was decided that the building would be designed with a Memphis theme. This tied in closely with both the location on historic Beale Street and the fact that Memphis is the “Home of the Blues, Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Thus, a theme of Memphis Music was an obvious choice.
The architects were charged with showcasing the history of music in Memphis and subtly incorporating that history into New Memphis Arena. Themed areas of both the Plaza and Terrace concourses feature the Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll (sponsored by International Paper), along with a Gospel Zone (presented by ServiceMaster), a unique Radio and Recording Zone, the Commercial Appeal Sun Studio Zone and the Memphis Music Today Zone featuring emerging artists in pop, rock, rap and hip-hop. Working with the UrbanArt Commission, the arena also incorporated a public art project. Original art from local and regional artists was commissioned to accentuate the music of the region. The music theme continued in the naming of all concessions and restaurants, and even the restroom icons feature musical images. Finally, the most apparent element of the Memphis Music theme is the Smithsonian’s Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, located on the arena grounds. The museum offers visitors a history of Memphis music and its role in the development of modern music.
In May of 2002, all designs were completed, and ground was broken in June. Excavation was completed in September of the same year. On October 16, 2002, international package delivery giant FedEx (headquartered in Memphis) purchased naming rights to New Memphis Arena for a reported $92 million. It works out to a bit more than $4.5 million per year until 2023 and is the second most expensive annual naming rights deal in the country, behind only the $5.8 million per year Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Substantial completion of FedExForum came in July of 2004 with the first public events in FedExForum in September. The arena was officially opened to the public in October of 2004. It was completed on-time and within the $250 million budget (though the second parking facility mysteriously disappeared from the plans inexplicably).
With this overview of the history of the FEF now complete, on to the University of Memphis men’s basketball FANFARE scores.
The atmosphere for the college game was superior to that generated for the Grizzlies. There were over 16,000 rabid fans at the game I atteneded and the vibe was so different, I had trouble believing I was in the same place. Even then, I feel that college ball is better suited to somewhat smaller venues. The band is a fixture at every game but in such a large stadium, their impact is muted. Still, you can't argue with such strong attendance.
One notable difference with the college setup is that the Tigers' banners from each season are on display as well as some retired numbers including that of Penny Hardaway. Conspicuous by its absence is the 2008 banner, which was taken down after it was determined Derrick Rose allowed someone else to take his SAT exam. That was the year Memphis lost the championship game to Kansas in overtime. Imagine if they had won; there would be no national champion for that year. Gotta love the NCAA when a high school violation can affect a season years later.
150 Peabody Pl
Memphis, TN 38103
670 Jefferson Ave
Memphis, TN 38105
154 Beale St
Memphis, TN 38103
145 Lt. George Lee Ave
Memphis, TN 38103
191 Beale St
Memphis, TN 38103
352 Beale St
Memphis, TN 38103
185 Union Ave
Memphis, TN 38103
1180 Union Ave
Memphis, TN 38104
170 Lt. George W Lee Ave
Memphis, TN 38103