In 1995, the Vancouver Grizzlies began playing as one of two Canadian expansion teams in the NBA where they endured six terrible seasons before moving to Memphis, becoming another in the long line of NBA teams with ill-suited nicknames.
The Grizzlies first played at the Pyramid Arena when they moved to Memphis, but it was too small to be a long-term NBA venue, so in 2004, the FedEx Forum was opened to host the Grizzlies as well as the University of Memphis Tigers.
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The concession stands are given cute music-related names such as Rock Around the Clock, Juke Joint and Spin Pizza but they don't offer much in the way of originality. A cheeseburger is $6 ($8.75 with fries), the Little Sports Fan Hot Dog is $4, but with that name, what self-respecting adult would order it?
Shaker fries come with your choice of Ranch, BBQ, or Cajun and are $6. Out of all the options, BBQ pork sandwiches looked to be the best bet. For sweets lovers, an ice cream bowl with hot fudge looked delicious and worth the $6 price tag.
There was a gluten-free stand that had some different choices including a tempting caramel and cheddar popcorn mix for $5.25 and Redbridge Gluten Free Beer for $6. Regular draft beer is either $7 or $8.50.
There are several specialty restaurants but only the Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 is open to the public. It was completely empty while I did my rounds. The Lexus Lounge is available only to those with tickets in the first 7 rows at courtside while Opus is the premium dining facility. Finally, the Blue Note Lounge is also limited to premium seat holders.
One plus here is the "Dine Time" board which lists all the concession stands and their offerings in a single spot; you can stop by that and decide on your meal without having to walk the concourse first.
On the upper level there are a few picnic tables where you can eat more comfortably than at your seat.
Memphis is a college basketball town and the Grizzlies are a secondary tenant, much as they were in Vancouver with the Canucks the local lords. What this means is that the team is always trying to sell more tickets, rather than entertain the fans that are there. During breaks, you are as likely to hear an ad for upcoming games or a ticket promotion as to have t-shirts fired into the crowd.
The most obvious sign of this was during the halftime promotion called "Who Wants to Be a Grizzillionaire?" Rather than trivia questions about the players or the team, the questions were related to the upcoming 2013-14 season ticket application deadline.
The only entertaining promotion was "Two on 'Cue" where two fans played against three BBQ rib mascots in a game similar to 2-on-2. In this game however, there were no rules and the mascots had lots of fun trying to take down the fans. This was even more interesting than the game itself.
Beyond this though, there was precious little cheering or emotion on display. The game was the last before the all-star break and neither team was putting in much effort. The lack of intensity on the floor spread out into the half-filled stands and I often felt I was watching a pre-season game rather than one featuring one of the top teams in the NBA.
Located on world-famous Beale Street, the Forum is surrounded by several great sights that can be visited before the game. The Rock 'n' Soul Museum, the Gibson Guitar Factory tour, the WC Handy House Museum, and of course Beale Street itself can give you a full day of entertainment.
The arena also faces South 3rd Street, which has a few bars and clubs of its own, and more than enough BBQ restaurants to keep you satisfied.
Memphis is also home to Graceland and the Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King's assassination, and now home of the National Civil Rights Museum. Overall, this may be the best location for any pro sports venue in the United States, since the local area is amazingly diverse yet is easy to navigate right up until game time.
For the game I attended, there were maybe 12,000 fans and they were simply not into the game for the most part. Many were quite late and those that were there spent a lot of time booing when their team fell behind in the middle of the second period. To be fair, the opponent was not one to evoke a lot of emotion and as mentioned, the game lacked any sort of real intensity, which affected the fans. I am confident that there is a different crowd when the Mavericks or Thunder come to visit.
The arena is easily accessible to visitors from exits off the three interstates around Memphis. There is a parking garage right next to the venue, but savvy drivers can find some free street parking just a couple of blocks north.
The single entrance to the FEF faces South 3rd Street and is known as the Plaza Entrance. Despite this being the only point of entry, there were no problems getting in, and after the game several other doors are opened to expedite the exiting process.
There are three seating levels here with the Club Level sandwiched between the Plaza and the Terrace. Of course, you need club tickets to access the Club Level. Concourses here are spacious on the public levels, a relatively uncommon sight for downtown facilities. The Forum is constructed over two city blocks though, so they had more space to work with and they used it wisely.
The seating bowl is well designed and offers good sightlines to the court from any spot.
Washrooms are plentiful and clean, and designated with cute little singers rather than your typical bland male and female signs.
The Grizzlies are not popular enough to overcharge for the majority of their tickets. In the lower deck, Row M seems to be the dividing line, with seats in that row costing $245 while those in row N are just $135. Of course, the terrace level is much more affordable, with row A going for only $50, a great bargain as the row is separated from the rest of the section. Note that the terrace level sections are labeled in the 200s which might make you seem closer than you appear.
Ticket specials are also available and it is recommended that you check out the Grizzlies website before you visit to see what deals may be offered.
The main scoreboard is high-definition and top quality while there are stat boards at each corner that give you the details you crave if you are a basketball geek.
Trivia nuts should note that FedEx Forum was the first arena to utilize the "see-through" shot clocks which allow fans behind the basket to see the action without having the clocks block their view.
Take the time to walk around the lower concourse as there are a number of interesting tidbits that demonstrate how much thought was put into construction of the building.
The Memphis Music Mural is a collection of art that celebrates the city's history as a musical destination. As you wander the concourse on both levels, look above for paintings and pictures that commemorate all the great artists that called Memphis home.
The most interesting bit here was the photography exhibition that illustrated life in the Delta. Taken by Bill Steber and located in the International Paper Blues Zone, the photos were shot all along Highway 61, considered the center of the Delta Blues culture.
The FedEx Zone includes a few displays related to the venue's main sponsor, and also has four super high definition TVs that show other sporting events.
When a Grizzly is featured on the main scoreboard, his Twitter handle is also displayed.
Outside the stadium, the corner of Beale and 3rd Street is decorated with basketballs, tennis balls, soccer balls, well, you get the picture.
Finally, there is a house band area behind one of the nets, although they didn't do much at the game I attended.
Overall, the Forum is one of the better venues I have seen. They make sure to remind you that you are in Memphis, and the downtown location is tough to beat. However, the fans don't seem to care much and that really hurts the ambiance. The Grizzlies are one of the better teams in the league, but locals are more enamored with the Tigers. Rumors of another move have started, but new owner Robert Pera has promised to keep them there. However, after seeing the lame crowd at this game, he may have a struggle on his hands. If you haven't seen the FedEx Forum, get down to Memphis as soon as you can for it may not be an NBA destination in the future.
FedEx Forum, located at 191 Beale Street in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, is home to the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies and the University of Memphis men's basketball team. Opened for business in September 2004, the building replaced the visually stunning but functionally awful Pyramid Arena.
The 18,440 seat facility cost $250 million to erect, paid for entirely with public bonds, and is owned by the City of Memphis. FedEx purchased naming rights for a cool $92 million, choosing the "Forum" moniker in homage to the fabled Great Western Forum in Los Angeles that housed so many NBA champions from 1967-'99.
The Grizzlies manage and operate the facility year round.
Though the outside of the FEF is not as unique and striking as its predecessor, it is a huge upgrade all around on the inside. The acoustics are amazing, sight lines are uncluttered, and there literally is not a bad seat in the house.
The FEF was the birthplace of some very intriguing innovations.
The thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) single-ply roofing membrane system, of itself, is nothing new. The inlaid "FedEx Forum" lettering, in the official company colors, was groundbreaking. General Contractor M. A. Mortenson Company brought in A. D Willis Company from Texas to install the highly efficient heat-reflective system, and charged them with figuring out how to get the FedEx colors right on the domed roof.
Willis officials later admitted that they had never been asked to do anything like it, but they gamely gave it a go. Mission accomplished.
The Forum also was the first NBA arena to trot out the see-through shot clocks on top of the backboards. After a fan of the New Jersey Nets e-mailed NBA Commissioner David Stern requesting changes to the units to make his viewing experience more pleasant, Daktronics obliged by first installing the technology at FedExForum during 2004. Seven other NBA venues have since followed suit.
Now, on to the review:
The Grizzlies are good. Wait who are the grizzlies? You don't know because they have never been at a game. The Grizzlies are GOOD! That makes the FedExForum a better atmosphere and place to watch a good game of NBA Basketball. The Grizzlies share the stadium with the NCAA Basketball team Memphis Tigers and they have the same atmosphere and the same food. The food is good but a little pricey. The neighborhood is not the best but you know it is good for Memphis. The Grizzlies are good and that can get more people to go to the Grizzlies games!
450 Mulberry St
Memphis, TN 38103
191 Beale St
Memphis, TN 38103
145 Lt. George W. Lee Ave
Memphis, TN 38103
352 Beale St
Memphis, TN 38103
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