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 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".
Barbecue is king here! Though the 'cue at the FEF isn't exactly world class, it is still quite tasty, and is reasonably priced. The music theme which dominates the venue continues in the naming of the concession stands, with catchy names such as Juke Joint (gotta love it!) and Rock Around the Clock. Of course, normal arena fare like hot dogs (about $4) and cheeseburgers/hamburgers (around $6) dot the list. Popcorn (a big fan favorite appears to be the caramel and cheddar popcorn, though I personally don't like cheese or cheese flavorings), pretzels, and beer. There's nothing too unpredictable. But the amount and variety of barbecue plates and sandwiches is a welcome respite at the FEF. There are a dizzying amount of restaurants in the building, though many of the upscale choices such as the Blue Note Lounge, Lexus Lounge and Opus are open only to premium seat holders. But Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 is open to the public and always packed to the gills.
Memphis Tiger basketball fans are a raucous, entertaining bunch, to say the least. Referee-baiting, calling out opposing players by name, and the occasional pithy chant are all on display when the Tigers crash the FEF. Crowds are generally in excess of 16,500, even for obscure opposition. The pyrotechnics and graphics on the big board for player intros are top notch and take the measure of many professional sport franchises. The Tigers have t-shirt giveaways, a halftime promotion where fans get on the court and compete for prizes, the dreaded "Kiss Cam" where fans are put on the spot by being placed on the big board and expected to kiss, and the always exciting "Dance for Your Dinner" which allows fans to shake their booty and win a free meal if they are chosen as the best/most fun! This is a great place to enjoy a ball game.
The City of Memphis has made a concerted (and expensive) effort to improve the quality of the downtown area. The FedExForum has reaped handsome rewards for its choice of location. The arena already had world-famous Beale Street as its North boundary. The Rock 'n' Soul Museum, the Gibson Guitar Factory tour and the W.C. Handy House Museum are all draws. And now, Beale Street Landing is near completion, right where Beale Street ends and the Mississippi River begins. There is world-famous Gus's Chicken just 2 streets over from the FEF.
All of this within easy walking distance. Then, there are close to 100 eating establishments in the immediate downtown area, as well. The Neelys, renowned for their show on the Food Network, operate two restaurants locally. Their uncle runs Interstate Barbecue, which is about 10 minutes from the FEF. Throw in the National Civil Rights Museum and Graceland and there are plenty of remarkable tourist destinations to choose from.
They get there on time and pack the building. They make plenty of noise, especially when the home team needs a boost. They talk trash and create an electric atmosphere. And the expression 'barely able to hear myself think' often applies when Memphis goes on a run in a game against a tough opponent. This is a place where there is no need to flash graphics such as "Clap!" or "Make some noise!" to goad the audience into action. Blend well with the beauty of a first class facility and you get the feel of college athletics the way it was meant to be. It's clean, wholesome, affordable and exciting to experience.
For an arena with just one major entry point, the Plaza Entrance on South Third Street, the FEF sure fills up quickly and without much fuss. The downtown location makes the building easily accessible from I-240, I-55, Highway 51 and from anywhere in the local area. The parking garage is right next to the FEF, with plenty of paid parking (usually $5 or $10 on game day) just a short walk to the south. Residents of Memphis who know the area can find some free street parking just a couple of blocks north. Beware of going too far southwest, as there are still a couple of dicey neighborhoods not very far away; stay in the paid parking or head just north of the arena. When games end, one can still exit through the Plaza Entrance, but several other points of egress are opened, as well, to speed up the process of leaving the building. This is a spacious venue, covering some 14 acres of real estate. This left plenty of space for more than enough public restrooms. Even the women's facilities, which are notorious for lines at many arenas around the country, never seem to be backed up. The facilities stay clean for the most part. The dancing/singing symbols on the rest rooms are a final touch alluding to the musical history of Memphis. Sight lines are very clean inside, the lighting is excellent and the concourses are massive.
Tickets to a Tiger basketball game are growing ever scarcer. The least expensive tickets (Special Terrace Level) are a pretty decent bargain at $110 per year, which comes out to about $5.50 per game in a typical year (a bit more some years). These seats are also exempt from the seat licensing donation that bumps the cost of watching games up considerably. Terrace level seats cost $235 per year with a $100 mandatory donation attached, taking the total investment to $335, or roughly $17 per game. Still not bad. Club seating is $825 plus an undisclosed donation level; it gets pretty expensive from this point on.
However, it's still not a bad deal on balance, as club seating includes concierge service and full control over video screens which allows the ticket holder to replay highlights at will. Seats in the lower bowl include concierge services, too, as well as allowing access to various lounges that are not open to the public. With the electricity this place generates during a high-profile game, it's THE place to be if you love sports and you're in Memphis. The basketball is first-rate, with Josh Pastner attracting some of the elite talent in the country to his program year-after-year. And you can enjoy the highlights on a high-definition video scoreboard that takes a back seat to none, whether NBA or otherwise. Factor in decent concession costs, reasonable parking and the arena's emphasis on keeping the grounds clean and you have considerable bang for your buck.
The FedExForum was the first basketball arena in the world to have see-through shot clocks on top of the backboards. Daktronics introduced the clear Lucite clocks at the FEF in 2004 as a way to make the viewing experience easier for fans paying for seats behind the baskets. The music theme and numerous photos/paintings of local landmarks are unique and educational. Having the National Civil Rights Museum almost within walking distance is a poignant reminder of the place that the city of Memphis has had in the struggle for equal rights for all. Beale Street is just a stone's throw away, so win or lose, the fans have a place to go to celebrate (or drown their sorrows) after the game. Graceland, the home of the late, great Elvis Presley, is less than 20 minutes away. The casinos in Tunica and Robinsonville, MS are easily accessible. You can take your significant other on a horse-drawn carriage ride. And don't forget about the downtown trolley line if you don't feel like driving from one end of downtown to the other.
Anyone who has been to the FedExForum to watch the Memphis Grizzlies and came away disappointed should take the time to go to a Memphis Tiger's basketball game. The difference is stark and quite amazing. The passion, the electricity, the ambiance. . .everything changes for the better. It truly becomes a place where one must attend a live event in order to enjoy the unique experience of big-time college basketball. The Tigers are a young, talented basketball team with a bright future ahead of them and one of the best basketball venues in the country, perhaps even the world, to enjoy them in.
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!
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
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