- Chad Minton
Murphy Center – Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
Photos by Chad Minton, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
Murphy Center 1301 E Main St Murfreesboro, TN 37132
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders website
Year Opened: 1973
Holding it Down in the ‘Boro
Checking out mid-major basketball can sometimes lead to stumbling upon a hidden gem, and that’s what you will get when attending a game at Murphy Center, home to the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.
Even though the building is called Murphy Center, the arena is entitled Monte Hale Arena. Everyone still knows the building primarily as Murphy Center. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams call this historic place home, which has been around since the early 1970’s.
Perhaps the biggest event to happen here wasn’t even a sporting event; The King himself, Elvis Presley, played at this venue five times. Other major musicians also have played to sold out crowds at the Murphy Center. Those days have long passed, and now it’s primarily used for basketball games and a few other campus events. The capacity of the arena is 11,802.
It’s cleverly nicknamed the Glass House due to the square building being surrounded by windows, something you don’t normally see at a basketball arena. This unique setting provides an interesting presentation for the visiting fan.
The Blue Raiders have always enjoyed a distinct home-court advantage at Murphy Center, and the fans range from alumni to current students and everyone in between. That home-court advantage shows in their impressive home winning percentage, which is north of 80 percent since 2014. The Blue Raiders compete in Conference USA.
Food & Beverage 3
The options offered at the concession stands fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to mid-major basketball venues. There are certainly some intriguing and tasty options, like the barbeque nachos for $8 or the angus burger for $7. Those two top the list, but after that the choices are basic. Barbeque sandwiches are a big deal in Tennessee, and Murphy Center does a good job at having this available for $7. Chicken sandwiches are $6, hot dogs are $4, and there are numerous snacking options with peanuts ($3), popcorn ($2-$3), candy or chips for $2.
Beverage options are very affordable with sodas ranging from $3-$4, depending on the size. The souvenir size is just $4. Gatorade is $4 and bottled water is $3.
The variety is a huge plus for the Murphy Center, but some of it is a bit overpriced for what you get.
The intimacy of Murphy Center is what really sets it apart from your typical college basketball arena. Your proximity to the court is excellent, and the two large scoreboards at each end of the court provides an awesome viewing experience. There are also four smaller scoreboards in each corner, and these provide player updates and other information.
Lighting isn’t normally mentioned when reviewing a sporting venue, but Murphy Center really hits this area perfectly to the point that it is a recognizable key element. The sets of lights that run down the sidelines put an emphasis on the court, while the background is kept relatively dark. It makes for a pleasurable viewing experience, and makes the game feel like it’s on a stage.
There aren’t a ton of extra activities to keep the fan engaged during timeouts. A few promotions and contests are done, particularly during halftime. One example of this is a halftime contest where two students race to see how much money they can pick up off the court before the time is up. Fun stuff like this definitely enhances the fan experience, but it could be done more often throughout the game.
As is the case with most college sporting events, the band really sets the tone for the evening. They sound great and play often to keep the energy level high. The audio system that flows through the arena is crisp and further helps the cause of getting excited for a game here.
The basketball tradition isn’t overflowing though Murphy Center by any means, but there is a distinct home-court advantage that the Blue Raiders get from playing here.
Sometimes you have to worry about where universities are located as they can be dropped in the middle of nowhere, leaving fans with very little to do before or after the game. Fortunately, that isn’t the case in Murfreesboro. The immediate area surrounding the Murphy Center has really improved in recent years.
The arena is located directly on the edge of campus, which is littered with your typical college bars. However, the choices are limited if you want to stick to walking. Your best choice to get good food and drinks is heading to Boulevard Bar and Grill, which is conveniently located on the corner of East Main Street and Middle Tennessee Boulevard. This place has unique food, an extensive drink menu and enough gigantic televisions to satisfy even the diehard sports fan.
A short drive from campus will get you to Murfreesboro’s historic downtown square. There are some fun shops to explore, and some tasty local dining options. Since Murfreesboro is a college town with over 100,000 people, there is a fair amount of nightlife to explore. You will always find a fun crowd at the Big Bang. It’s a live music venue and the best place to go for some late night fun.
Finally, there is a lot of Civil War history in Murfreesboro with the Stones River National Battlefield being located just a few miles from campus. I highly recommend spending a few hours here if time permits.
Also be prepared to make about a 15-minute drive from the Murphy Center to find the hotels. There are several choices to choose from, and the top choice is the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. The DoubleTree has been a local staple as one of the best hotels in Murfreesboro for a long time.
The fans are of your typical variety for a mid-major program. They’re very knowledgeable and loyal. You don’t always see a healthy dose of student support for smaller programs, but the Blue Raiders don’t seem to be suffering from that. You can expect to see a respectable amount of students, depending on the opponent. A distinct student section is usually situated behind one of the goals. Additionally, alumni do a commendable job at showing their loyalty to the Blue Raider basketball program.
The room for improvement is more fans need to show up in general. With over 100,000 Murfreesboro residents, there’s no reason why the attendance numbers can’t get better. The building is consistently around half full, and rarely sells out. That number needs to steadily improve, and the students play a big role in that. The Murphy Center has the ability to get extremely loud even when there’s regularly only about 5,000 fans in attendance. If that number could get closer to 8,000 per game, then I can only imagine how difficult this place would be for an opponent of any caliber. The fans that do show up make plenty of noise with their own catchy chants they yell throughout the game.
The Murphy Center is sorely lacking in this department. First off, Murfreesboro is notorious for having some of the worst traffic in the Greater Nashville area. It’s a sprawling city that can easily take you upwards of 20 minutes to get from the interstate to the campus, and sometimes even longer.
Parking is relatively convenient and easy to find. Your best bet is to park in the main lot that services all of the athletic fields. It’s a huge parking lot and the entrance sits on Greenland Drive.
Something else that negatively impacts the experience is the narrow concourses that circle around Murphy Center. The outer concourse is simply a track that takes you all the way around. A silver-lining in this is that it’s impossible to get lost, unless you’re looking for the restrooms. They’re placed in somewhat odds areas, including a hallway that runs along the outer perimeter. There are signs, but they’re not very effective.
The inner concourse also makes a giant circle, and is even more narrow. Even with the attendance being at just 50 percent, it can still be very congested.
Return on Investment 3
Prices are a bit high for what you get out of an experience at Murphy Center, and that may be one of the reasons why local support isn’t higher. Tickets are typically $12 for general admission, which isn’t outrageous but still a bit high. Concession prices are what really seem to be overpriced. The food isn’t bad, but is also nothing special. A basic hamburger or nachos with pork on them shouldn’t be $7-$8 like you would expect at a professional sporting event. Sometimes you can be lucky enough to get free parking, but you should expect at least a $5 charge to park in the main lot. Slightly adjusting some of these prices would go a long way in increasing attendance numbers on a regular basis.
An extra goes to how blown away I was by the large amount of students that attended this game against a below average opponent. The matchup was nothing to get excited about, but the students showed up in big numbers and had plenty of chants to make their impact on the game. You don’t regularly see that at smaller basketball venues, and it helps to demonstrate the commitment of the students to the basketball program.
The unique quality that Murphy Center offers to the visiting fans earns a couple extras points. It’s always enjoyable to visit a home court that isn’t your run-of-the-mill arena. You’ll get a different experience than what you’re accustomed to at Murphy Center, and that’s a good thing.
College basketball in the exact geographic center of the state of Tennessee can offer a fun night to get out and enjoy some mid-major basketball. The Murphy Center has a lot going for it in the sense that it’s not your garden variety college basketball arena. It has character, charisma and tradition. Better pricing to pull the average fans in on a regular basis would take Murphy Center to even greater heights, and give the venue the national notoriety that it deserves.