• Search by team or stadium name:

Buy the latest issue of Stadium Journey Magazine - Subscribe Today!

Stadium Journey Sports Magazine Subscriptions

Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

Memphis, TN

Home of the Memphis Tigers

3.9

3.1

Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (map it)
335 S Hollywood St
Memphis, TN 38104


Memphis Tigers website

Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium website

Year Opened: 1965

Capacity: 61,008

There are no tickets available at this time.

Reviews

Local Information

Share
this

Give Me Liberty

The Liberty Bowl was built almost 50 years ago, in 1965. The name derives from the fact that the stadium was “built by the citizens of Memphis” as a memorial to the veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Built for $3.7 million, Memphis Memorial Stadium, as it was originally named, became the anchor and crown jewel of the Mid-South Fairgrounds complex, which also included the American Legion baseball stadium and the Mid-South Coliseum, each opening for business in 1963.

American Legion Field—which seated 8,800 and would later be re-named Blues Stadium before finally being christened Tim McCarver Stadium. The Coliseum and Memorial Stadium were all within easy walking distance of one another and were erected on the East side of Early Maxwell Boulevard. Libertyland Amusement Park and the Mid-South Fairgrounds occupied the land to the West of Early Maxwell, with the exception of the livestock stables, which crossed over both sides of Early Maxwell, just between the football and baseball stadiums.

Memorial Stadium was built primarily to lure the Liberty Bowl football game to the city of Memphis.

Founded by Ambrose F. “Bud” Dudley in 1959, the bowl game had drawn very poorly in its original home of Philadelphia, PA. Contested in Philly’s Municipal Stadium, it was the only cold weather postseason collegiate game at the time. Dudley ardently desired to see a bowl game played in Philadelphia, and the Liberty Bowl moniker was a natural nod to the city’s historic importance to the liberation of America. The inaugural event faired very well, as 36,211 fans packed in to see Penn State defeat Alabama, 7-0. Attendance dropped dramatically the following year to 16,624. By 1963, the game drew fewer than 10,000 spectators (8,309), absorbing a staggering $40,000+ deficit, which would translate to about $300,000+ today.

New Jersey lured the Liberty Bowl to the Boardwalk in 1964, dangling a guaranteed pay day of $25,000 to Dudley. It was moved to Atlantic City’s Convention Hall and became the first-ever bowl game played indoors. AstroTurf was a few years away, so they instead rolled a 2-inch thick base of burlap on the playing surface, topped by a 4-inch thick grass surface. Artificial lighting was installed and kept going around the clock to stimulate grass growth. The experiment cost the citizens of Atlantic City some $16,000.

The game was a dismal failure. It took the $25,000 guarantee, paid by local businessmen, to keep Dudley out of the red. Only 6,059 fans watched Utah dismantle West Virginia. Some shrewd Memphis visionaries, whose names appear to sadly have been lost from history, were watching these developments and pushing ahead with construction of Memphis Memorial Stadium. They nabbed the game for 1965.

The first Liberty Bowl played in Memphis occurred on December 16, 1965. A healthy crowd of 38,607 watched Ole Miss defeat Auburn, 13- 7. The nascent contest drew a then-record crowd of 39,101 in 1966 as Miami topped Virginia Tech, 14-7. The game has failed to crack 32,000 fans only once since then (21,097 in 1993).

Memphis Memorial Stadium became so synonymous with its signature event that the building was re-named Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in 1976. The only other name change occurred in December of 1983, when city officials christened the playing surface Rex Dockery Field in honor of the late football coach who died tragically in an airplane accident over Lawrenceburg, TN on December 12, 1983. Also dying that day were assistant coach Chris Faros, Tiger freshman Charles Greenhill and prominent booster Glenn Jones.

The Liberty Bowl, now known as the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, remains a major tenant of the facility to this day. The wildly popular Southern Heritage Classic football game, pitting prominent Historically Black Colleges and Universities Tennessee State and Jackson State, has also been contested in the stadium since 1989.

Over the years, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium has held many noteworthy events. Perhaps the best known in many circles was the 1982 Liberty Bowl, won by the Alabama Crimson Tide, 21-15, over Illinois on December 29, 1982. Less than a month later, legendary Alabama head coach Bear Bryant passed away after a heart attack, making that '82 Liberty Bowl both his final game and victory.

The Monsters of Rock tour took Memphis by storm on July 8-9, 1988. It was one of the largest, loudest tour events in the world up to that time, and part of the first-ever traveling concert series of its kind in U.S. history. The tour was headlined by international superstars Van Halen and supported by such stellar acts as Metallica, Scorpions and Dokken. Fire hoses were brought in to cool off the fans, sweltering in temperatures hovering between 95- and 100-degrees. It was estimated that peak attendance was around 45,000-50,000 for Van Halen.

The stadium truly is a “bowl” and was the first in the U.S. to be built with two high concourses that swept down to two lower concourses, but all in a single tier. It was built with the East side, along Hollywood Street, lower than the West side with an initial capacity of 50,160. In 1984, Coca-Cola Bottling sponsored the installation of what was then the largest scoreboard in the region, a 100-foot by 23-foot unit with a 16’ by 32’ display area.

A $19.5 million major renovation to the venue came in 1987. It balanced the height of each side, swelled peak attendance to 62,370, affixed luxury boxes to the top of the East concourse, and saw improvements to the concessions, lighting, playing surface, restrooms and handicap seating. This was followed by a 1999 re-working that took capacity to an all-time high of 62,921. Various minor alterations were made to increase the comfort level of attendees over the next decade or so and now the listed capacity is 61,008.

Bounds & Gillespie Architects handled plans for the 1987 and 1999 renovations.

Deliberations over the long-term future of the Liberty Bowl have raged for years. In 2010, it was decided that the grounds around the facility would be upgraded, and $15.7 million in capital improvements were approved by the City Council. The largest chunk of that budget was devoted to creating Tiger Lane—a spectacular tailgating area—along with a new grand West entrance, which is absolutely breathtaking at night.

The University of Memphis football team, as the most regular tenant of the Liberty Bowl with their annual spring Blue-Gray game as well as their home football games every fall, unveiled Tiger Lane at the world-renowned Memphis in May Barbecue Contest in the Spring of 2011, thanks to the submersion of downtown Tom Lee Park under flood waters. The official opening of Tiger Lane, however, occurred on September 18, 2011 at a home game versus Middle Tennessee State. Improvements continued into 2012, and many of these were aimed specifically at making the Liberty Bowl more inviting for their most frequent user, the Memphis Tigers. The exterior of the building was painted for the first time in the stadium’s history. A beautiful stadium club area for Tiger boosters and fans was built in the lower concourse. Modern AstroTurf was installed, as well.

The centerpiece of the latest round of renovations is the stunning video boards. With unsurpassed resolution and a powerful new sound system, the $2.5 million invested includes a 106’ by 58’ structure that hulks over the South end of the field and a 38’x10’ LED board nestled at the North end. The video board nearest the Tigers’ locker room is, according to available statistics, one of the 10 largest in the country. Future projects will include upgrading the 4-level press box. The plumbing and HVAC systems will be updated and Internet access will be improved. Other functional changes are scheduled to be made, as well, with the press box likely being expanded. The venerable old stadium has aged well, but a nearly 50-year old stadium is at an inherent disadvantage when being compared to more modern venues. One glaring problem is the lack of club seats, which are typically sandwiched between the upper and lower concourses of modern stadiums. This is a potent revenue-killer. The risers leading to the upper seats are relatively steep. And it would cost untold millions to retro-fit the Liberty Bowl, more than it would cost to build a brand new venue from scratch.

3.9

What is FANFARE?

The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:

  • Food & Beverage
  • Atmosphere
  • Neighborhood
  • Fans
  • Access
  • Return on Investment
  • Extras

Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".

Food & Beverage    4

This is Memphis, so the food is guaranteed to be good. But the old stadium wasn't built with the modern-day amenities in mind. There are no restaurants on site, and even the concession stands seem to be spaced a little too far apart. The food is great; the pizza by the slice from Coletta's is wonderful, the BBQ nachos receive rave reviews, the sausage sandwiches are filling. But there are no exotic food choices to speak of, not a lot of variety of menu items to choose from. So as good as the Memphis food is-and having Coletta's, Hogwild BBQ and the world-famous Uncle Lou's (made even more popular by his inclusion on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) as vendors is extremely impressive. Prices are about average, nothing to write home about.

Atmosphere    3

Tiger Lane helped the overall atmosphere tremendously. Simply put, the atmosphere within Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium leaves much to be desired, because there are rarely enough fans present to generate the electricity the venerable building once thrived on. Memphis Tiger fans are as rabid as any others in the country; the problem is that right now, not enough of them show up for games. However, they sure love to tailgate! If you want to have fun on a Saturday afternoon during college football season in Memphis, take a stroll down Tiger Lane and enjoy some raucous tailgating fun. I know for a fact that a percentage of them never make it inside the building, but a winning football team will cure that. If the joint ever gets to jumping inside like it does before the game on Tiger Lane, the "Atmosphere" score will go up.

Neighborhood    4

This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city of Memphis. The stadium is bounded by iconic Orange Mound on the South, East Parkway on the West and the gorgeous campus of Christian Brothers University on the North.

As for attractions, they're not extremely plentiful. But the Children's Museum of Memphis (2525 Central Avenue) is adjacent to the stadium's North parking lot and is an amazing place to take pre-teens for a few hours of wholesome entertainment.

Just a few minutes East of the stadium is the Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium (3050 Central Avenue), one of my favorite Memphis landmarks. It's a fascinating snap shot of the history of Memphis and good for hours of education.

There are not a lot of eating establishments within close proximity of the Liberty Bowl, but the one that's closest is superb: Central Barbecue (2249 Central Avenue), some of the best 'cue in town and just one block Northwest of the stadium. Keep driving West down Central and make a left on Cooper and you're smack in the heart of the Cooper-Young district. It's something like Beale Street East for nighttime partygoers, not exactly kid friendly.

To find food and atmosphere for the children, you have to head North on Parkway or Hollywood and get off on either Union Avenue or Poplar Avenue. On game day, once you get out of the bottleneck around the grounds, either major thoroughfare is easy to find, and just about anything you could want to eat or do is easily accessible. In other words, a family wanting to make a day or even weekend of a trip to the Liberty Bowl for an event won't have much of a problem, but a GPS might not be a bad idea.

The nearest good hotel is the Holiday Inn at the University of Memphis (3700 Central Avenue) but if it's full you've got to hoof it over to the downtown Memphis area. Then again, those hotels are all easy to find from either Poplar or Union so it doesn't make for a particularly difficult commute.

Fans    3

Attendance is improving for Memphis Tiger football. I still can't help but wonder what it would be like to get an infusion of students, or at least student-aged fans, into the building. Younger fans, logically enough, have more energy and display their passion for the game in much more boisterous, gregarious ways. At the last couple of home games, with a higher number of younger fans in the building, the electricity level was notably increased. Tiger fans do a good job of sensing when the team could use a pick-me-up and are good about making noise. And the fans are all decked out in Tiger blue; I love the blinking shades with flashing blue lights. And then there's the tailgating on Tiger Lane, where the fans are free and giving with samples of barbecue.

Access    3

For most games, when crowds are light, getting to the Liberty Bowl and parking is not too difficult. Prices are reasonable: $10 for a well-lit, secure parking spot on the North end of the site. From there, it's a short walk to the main entrance or Tiger Lane. But when there's a big game, the gridlock on the way to the stadium can be unbearable.

And then, you might end up parking in someone's front yard along East Parkway; your vehicle will be very secure but you'll be parked in grass, not good if a rain squall comes up. Beware of parking too far East of Hollywood Street, as there is a dicey neighborhood where you can park for free but it's not a wise idea.

Continued improvements to the area around the Liberty Bowl have already alleviated some of these issues; there is less gridlock on game day. Frankly, though, I wish they would tear down the old Mid-South Coliseum and build a multi-level parking garage there. Also, in the stadium itself, though the bathrooms have been renovated 2 or 3 times, they still leave a little something to be desired. Internet access is spotty at best, even in the press box. The plan is to address some of these issues in the next round of improvements, where feasible.

Return on Investment    5

A Memphis football ticket is a great value. Prices have been reduced everywhere in the building, and basic season ticket costs are just $55 for 6 games. That's less than $10 per game. Parking (get there early for the best spots) is affordable. If you roam Tiger Lane long enough, you'll likely find someone who will give you a free sample of barbecue (at least, that's the way it happened for me!) or maybe you have a friend with a bay (I've gone that route, too). Food and drink prices inside the facility are manageable. It's really a good deal, all-in-all.

Extras    5

The brand new grand entrance to the stadium is gorgeous, especially at night, when it all lights up blue. Tiger Lane was a brilliant idea (the bays sold out within mere weeks) and there appears to be a new tradition emerging which will draw the Tiger football team closer to the fans.

Easy availability to a splendid eating place (Central Barbecue), children's entertainment (Children's Museum of Memphis) and the Pink Palace, all of which are very affordable and engrossing, warrants extra points.

The National Civil Rights Museum (450 Mulberry Street) downtown is not very far away, less than 15 minutes. Iconic Beale Street is even closer. And the stadium itself has quite a long, storied history. It's far from perfect but the old building has become ensconced as a piece of the very fabric of Memphis history.

Final Thoughts

Despite the money being poured into it, the future of the Liberty Bowl is very much in doubt. But the sight lines at the venue are very clean, and there are very few bad seats in the house. If you get the opportunity to take in a football game there, do so while you still can. Though Shirley Raines with the University of Memphis says the school is not going to pursue an on-campus arena anytime soon, public sentiment is not on her side. If the Liberty Bowl is still in business a decade from now, it will be a huge surprise.

Sorry Charlie

But your all wet. The ole lady is in great physical shape and with the planned upgrades the ole lady will look even better. She will be hosting Tiger game 10, 20 and maybe even 30 years down the road. The only ones clamoring for an OCS are a small minority who hang out on the local message board and feel inferior if another school has a new toy they do not have. The Tigers have such a great financial agreement with the city on rent of the stadium it would be impossible to match it with an OCS.

by mphsrick43 | Oct 07, 2012 10:44 PM

@mphsrick43

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion. As I pointed out in my review, the lack of club seating is a crucial reason to desire a different venue. Additionally, there is no reason for a 60,000+ seat stadium right now, it just makes the small crowds look worse. Being a native Memphian, I'm very well aware of the deal the U of M has on LBMS, and it's not quite as sweet as you paint it to be. It's actually a pain, having to stop and get Board approval before doing anything of substance to the building. So you have your predictions and I have mine. Only time will tell which is more accurate. Whether the new venue is on-campus or off, I stand behind my prediction that the Liberty Bowl's days are numbered. It's #1 proponent, Dr. Shirley Raines, will be gone in less than 2 years and we'll see what the incoming University President wants to do.

by leroywatsonjr | Oct 23, 2012 01:00 AM

You must be a Stadium Journey member to post a comment.

Already a member? Sign in or Create a Stadium Journey Account

-- OR --

Crowd Reviews

Give Me Liberty

Total Score: 3.29

  • Food & Beverage: 4
  • Atmosphere 3
  • Neighborhood: 4
  • Fans: 0
  • Access: 2
  • RoI: 5
  • Extras: 5

The year was 1965. The Beatles had taken America by storm just one year prior, Lyndon Baines Johnson was in his final year as U.S. President, leaded gasoline cost $0.31 a gallon and the United States began bombing runs against the Viet Cong as our country's role in the Vietnam War grew rapidly.

It's also the year that the City of Memphis made a $3.7 million investment in their future by opening Memphis Memorial Stadium, the anchor and crown jewel of the Mid-South Fairgrounds complex, which also included the American Legion baseball stadium and the Mid-South Coliseum (each opened for business in 1963). American Legion Field, which seated 8,800 and would later be re-named Blues Stadium before finally being christened Tim McCarver Stadium, the Coliseum and Memorial Stadium were all within walking distance of one another and were erected on the East side of Early Maxwell Boulevard. Libertyland amusement park and the Mid-South Fairgrounds occupied the land to the West of Early Maxwell, with the exception of the livestock stables, which crossed over both sides of Early Maxwell between the football and baseball stadiums.

Memorial Stadium was built primarily to lure the Liberty Bowl football game to the city of Memphis. The bowl game had drawn very poorly in its original home of Philadelphia, PA, and even worse in its one year in Atlantic City, NJ. It was an instant smash success in Memphis, so much so that the football stadium was re-named Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in 1976.

The Liberty Bowl, now known as the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, remains a major tenant of the facility to this day. The wildly popular Southern Heritage Classic football game, pitting prominent Historically Black Colleges and Universities Tennessee State and Jackson State, has been contested in the stadium since 1989. The Classic has become the largest annual sporting event in the city of Memphis.

The University of Memphis football team, however, is the most regular tenant of the Liberty Bowl, with their annual spring Blue-Gray game as well as their home football games every fall.

Over the years, the venerable Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium has held many noteworthy games. Perhaps the best known in many circles was the 1982 Liberty Bowl, won by the Alabama Crimson Tide, 21-15, over Illinois. Less than a month later, legendary Alabama head coach Bear Bryant passed away after a heart attack, making that '82 Liberty Bowl both his final game and victory.

The venue has also hosted some very notable non-football related events, as well. On July 4, 1975, the Rolling Stones performed in concert at the stadium with about 51,000 people in attendance. Among the opening acts were the Charlie Daniels Band and the J. Geils Band. The event was infamous for running out of concessions and ice in 95-degree weather, with stadium personnel turning on water hoses to let patrons spray each other in a bid to cool off. The playing surface, after being trampled by some 12,000 screaming fans on the field, was an utter quagmire that took days to repair.

The Monsters of Rock tour took Memphis by storm on July 8-9, 1988. It was one of the largest, loudest tour events in the world up to that time, and part of the first-ever traveling concert series of its kind in U.S. history. The tour was headlined by international superstars Van Halen and supported by such stellar acts as Metallica, Scorpions and Dokken. And once again, fire hoses were brought in to cool off the fans, sweltering in temperatures hovering between 95- and 100-degrees. It was estimated that peak attendance was around 45,000-50,000 for Van Halen.

The stadium truly is a "bowl" and was the first in the U.S. to be built with two high concourses that swept down to two lower concourses, but all in a single tier. It was built with the East side, along Hollywood Street, lower than the seating on the West side. This set initial capacity at 50,160. In 1984, Coca-Cola Bottling sponsored the installation of what was then the largest scoreboard in the Mid-South, a 100-foot wide by 23-foot tall unit. The first (and likely only) major renovation to the venue came in 1987 and cost $19.5 million. It balanced the height of each side, swelled peak attendance to 62,370, affixed luxury boxes to the top of the East concourse, and saw improvements to the concessions, lighting, playing surface, restrooms and handicap seating. This was followed by a 1999 re-working that took capacity to an all-time high of 62,921. Various minor alterations were made to increase the comfort level of attendees over the next decade or so and now the listed capacity is 61,008. And a new FieldTurf playing surface was installed in 2005 at a cost of $850,000.

Bounds & Gillespie Architects handled plans for the 1987 and 1999 renovations.

In December 1983, the city of Memphis honored the memory of fallen head coach Rex Dockery, who was killed in a plane crash on December 12th of that year. The playing surface at the Liberty Bowl was re-named Rex Dockery Field.

Deliberations over the long-term future of the Liberty Bowl have raged for years. In 2010, it was decided that the grounds around the facility would be upgraded, and $15.7 million in capital improvements were approved by the City Council. The largest chunk of that budget was devoted to creating Tiger Lane—a spectacular tailgating area—along with a new grand West entrance. Tiger Lane was christened by the world-renowned Memphis in May Barbecue Contest in the Spring of 2011, thanks to the submersion of downtown Tom Lee Park under flood waters. The official opening of Tiger Lane, however, occurred on September 18, 2011 at a home game versus Middle Tennessee State.

The old stadium has aged well, but a nearly 50-year old stadium is at an inherent disadvantage when being compared to more modern venues. One glaring problem is the lack of club seats, which are typically sandwiched between the upper and lower concourses of modern stadiums. It is the sort of revenue-killer that led the city of Memphis to shut down the Pyramid Arena and open the FedEx Forum in 2004. There are only scattered seat backs in the building. The risers leading to the upper seats are relatively steep. And it would cost untold millions to retro-fit the Liberty Bowl, more than it would cost to build a brand new venue from scratch.

The Tigers Football???

Total Score: 3.00

  • Food & Beverage: 3
  • Atmosphere 3
  • Neighborhood: 2
  • Fans: 2
  • Access: 4
  • RoI: 3
  • Extras: 4

The Liberty Bowl is a stadium that needs a good football team. It was built about fifty years ago and a team that has played in there hasn't gone over .600 EVER! The Tigers need to get a better football team so that the Liberty Bowl can make their facilities better inside the stadium. Recently they added tiger lane which is a place where you can tailgate and that would be your favorite part of the whole time. Hopefully, when the Tigers go to the Big East the team and the new coach can get a better team! FINGERS CROSSED

Share your thoughts about Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

Local Food & Drink

Central BBQ  (map it!)

2249 Central Ave

Memphis, TN 38104

(901) 272-9377

http://www.cbqmemphis.com/

Local Entertainment

Children's Museum of Memphis  (map it!)

2525 Central Ave

Memphis, TN 38104

(901) 458-2678

http://cmom.com/

Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium  (map it!)

3050 Central Ave

Memphis, TN 38111

(901) 320-6320

http://www.memphismuseums.org/

National Civil Rights Museum  (map it!)

450 Mulberry St

Memphis, TN 38103

(901) 521-9699

http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/

Lodging

Holiday Inn- University of Memphis  (map it!)

3700 Central Ave

Memphis, TN 38111

(901) 678-8200

http://www.holidayinn.com/hotels/us/en/memphis/memkw/hoteldetail

w

© 2014 Stadium Journey