Photos by Marc Viquez Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
Freedom Hall 937 Phillips Ln. Louisville, KY 40209
Year Opened: 1956
Bellarmine Knights are at Home in Freedom Hall
Freedom Hall is one of the iconic buildings of college basketball, a mecca to many fans of the sport and especially Louisville Cardinals fans who watched them play between 1956-2010. Crowds of around 19,000 were common, especially after the Cards captured the 1980 NCAA Final Four, but after the team relocated to the KFC Yum Center, it appeared that it would no longer be home to college hoops.
That changed in the summer of 2020 when Bellarmine University Knights basketball program was elevated to NCAA Division I status and moved into the ASUN Conference. The university’s athletic director said that Freedom Hall was a natural choice as it’s steeped richly in basketball tradition and minutes from campus. To say that the building is rich in basketball tradition is an understatement.
Besides being the home for the Cards for 54 years, the place was home to Kentucky high school championship games, the former home of the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA, countless NBA exhibition games, and the host of six NCAA Final Four–a record for one individual building. Adding to its lore is being the home for Louisville-native Muhammad Ali’s first professional boxing match on October 29, 1960.
Bellarmine played in the building’s second game before an exhibition game between the Boston Celtics and Minneapolis Lakers in November of 1956. The Knights have also played a handful of contests in the old building before settling permanently. The arena can seat 18,252 for basketball games but is capped at 6,252 for the university.
The university was established in 1960, and the basketball program competed in NCAA Division II and played at Knights Hall on campus. The Knights became a powerhouse making 11-straight NCAA DII postseason appearances from 2009-to 2019. The team made four Final Four appearances during that time, culminating in the 2011 Final Four championship against BYU-Hawaii in Springfield, Massachusetts.
There were many improvements made at Freedom Hall in 1984 that included lowering the floor to accommodate more seating. In 2017, the lower bleachers were replaced, a new scoreboard and sound system were added, repairs were made to the concourse flooring, and a paint job after the acoustic tiles were removed from the ceiling.
Food & Beverage 3
Concession stands and kiosks are open on both levels of the concourse and provide more than enough options for fans at the game. The standard hot dogs, nachos, pretzels, and fries are featured. The Kentucky Pork Association stand includes the following options: boneless pork chop sandwich, pork burger, pork bbq, baked country ham sandwich, brats, and chili dogs. Domestic and imported beers are available, along with premium cocktails. Waffle cones and various ice cream flavors are provided by local Ehrler’s Ice Cream. Coke products are the drink of choice at Freedom Hall.
Despite the size of Freedom Hall, the atmosphere is pleasant for the Knights. The massive building did not quell the good mood of the home crowd, who provided a great backdrop for the evening’s contest. The majority of the faithful sat in the lower bleacher section consisting of foldable chairs, while a few enjoyed the game from the upper seating bowl.
The new scoreboard has video capabilities and hangs above the center court. The Knight new floor design is quite nice in design, and both the cheerleaders and the band provide the usual college exclamation points. A small student section does its best to provide a home-court advantage along with the team mascot that walks around the cheer section.
The outer concourse area is broken into upper and lower levels that are fully separate from the seating area. There are no views from the concourse levels, and one could feel the slightest isolated while walking around with the game taking place just a few feet away through the vomitorium. The concourses do provide bathrooms, concession areas, and exits for easy access.
The end court stands are standard bleachers and mask the additional seating and floor section of the building. The stats scoreboard is at the far end of the arena and provides a little old-school charm along with some of the building’s signage. To many who have grown up attending games here, there appears to have been little that has changed at Freedom Hall.
However, there is not much that celebrates the venue’s rich baseball history. There are no banners, trophy cases, photos, murals, or mention of what has taken place since 1956. Bellarmine does not even have its 2011 Final Four banner hanging up from the rafters. The building has been home to more than just basketball, but a lot could be on display in the walls of the vapid concourse.
Freedom Hall is located 5-miles south of downtown Louisville on the grounds of the Kentucky Exposition Center. Louisville Muhammad Ali Internation Airport is adjacent to the complex that is directly off of I-65 and I-264. Churchill Downs is also nearby the complex. It is easily accessible by car, but one has to leave the complex to access other areas of Louisville.
There is a multitude of hotel and restaurants chains nearby the complex. The best suggestion would be to travel 5 miles north to downtown and enjoy the many options of the city that includes the following museums: Louisville Slugger Museum, Kentucky Science Center, and the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft.
There are numerous distilleries in town that include the following: Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Rabit Hole Distillery, Kentucky Peerless Distilling, Angel’s Envy Distilling, and Brough Brothers Distilling.
The Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs are within a few miles from the complex and are must-see options in Derby City. Church Hills Down is home to the Kentucky Derby, but there is plenty of other horse racing throughout the season. Also nearby are Patterson Stadium (baseball) and Cardinal Stadium (football) on the University of Louisville campus.
Despite the size of Freedom Hall, the Knights fans make the massive building very comfortable. There is never a feeling that the team is playing out of its league in the historic hall. The Bellarmine fan base provides an impressive atmosphere that should add another notch to the history of the arena.
Freedom Hall is located 5-miles south of downtown Louisville on the grounds of the Kentucky Exposition Center. It’s home to various exhibition buildings, Kentucky Kingdom amusement park, and Hurricane Bay water park. The complex is easily accessible from I-65 and I-264, and there are plenty of parking spots surrounding the arena. Inside the arena, two concourses wrap around the interior seating bowl for easy access to individual seating and sections.
Return on Investment 3
The cost of a ticket is between $15 to $25. There is not a bad seat in the house, but lower section seating puts the customer close to the action on the court. Parking is $10, understandable for being in an exposition complex, and concessions are reasonable, but a few items are a tad high including, hot dogs for $6.
Freedom Hall has a grand history, but none of that is on display on the interior walls of the concourse. It is somewhat sad since there have been many celebrations from college basketball, an ABA championship, concerts by national acts, and Muhammad Ali’s first bout. Thankfully there are plaques, including one of Ali, of Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame members on the walls. A second point is awarded to the Kentucky Pork Producers that offer plenty of tasty products at the game.
Freedom Hall has seen a lot of sporting events during its tenure, and there was a thought that it would be too big for Bellarmine. That doesn’t appear to be the case, as a substantial crowd provides a wonderful backdrop for the evening. However, the outside concourse could use some improvements to honor the building’s amazing history. Even with that in mind, Freedom Hall is worth a visit for being what it has always been, a historic home for college hoops.