It was the end of the 2001 season when the Grizzlies announced that they were pulling up stakes in
Vancouver, where they had struggled through several dismal seasons, and were moving to Memphis. What
Memphis did not have was a state of the art venue, so for the first few seasons, the team would play at the
Pyramid, the home of the University of Memphis Tigers. This is a distinctive venue located on the riverfront
and shaped like, well... a pyramid. Plans were put in motion for the Grizzlies new home... a site was selected
adjacent to the historic Beale Street entertainment district, and in October of 2004, the FedExForum opened
its doors for the first time. The Memphis Grizzlies would be setting up shop in their third venue in their brief
history, here, in the middle of the birthplace of Blues and Soul.
Getting to the venue
The arena is located on the south side of downtown and right adjacent to the Beale Street district. Highways
I-55, I-40 and I-240 offer convenient access and signage to get you to the venue, which can easily be spotted
from most major highways. This is very much a driving city, so public transportation is not really that great an
option, although a downtown trolley line loops through the business district and can be a fun option to get to
the venue. The Beale Steeet or Linden stops still means about a three to four block walk to the venue. With
everything else going on around downtown, parking can be a bit tight. The parking ramp adjacent to the
venue is reserved for season ticket holders, and surface lots around the arena run about $10 to park. Some
of the side streets south of the venue do offer free street parking.
Outside the venue
Man oh man, what a perfect location for the arena. Memphis is a bustling city, and shopping, hotels,
restaurants, nightclubs are all nearby. One block north is Peabody Place, a multilevel indoor/outdoor
shopping mall. Autozone Park, the home of the AAA Memphis Redbirds, is another block away. But it is the
exciting Beale Street entertainment district which lies at the feet of the FedExForum entrance plaza. This
historic area is packed with cafes, clubs, restaurants and live music venues all celebrating the historical
musical contributions that this area has made to our American heritage. New construction of office space
and condominiums outside the arena were designed to architecturally match the older structures along
Beale Street and blend in seamlessly.
A large public plaza and meeting area is outside the arena's main entrance, and ticket offices and the Rock
and Soul Museum share space in this area.
A large glass atrium lobby greats you inside the door, with a back lit movie theatre type marquee running
along the inside fascia. On the right is a glassed in practice court, where visitors can walk in during the day
and watch the team do their thing. On the left is a large team store called the "Grizzlies Den", as well as a
sports bar called the "Jack Daniels Grill".
What makes this venue unique, special and gives this building its distinctive character is the meticulous
effort that was made to celebrate the history of music, Memphis style, through a collection of murals,
displays, concession canopies and signage. Everything here oozes music. Concourse areas are themed
according to Blues, Jazz, Gospel, Soul and Memphis music today. The faces of musical icons Elvis Presley,
B.B. King. Duke Ellington and Johnny Cash, among many others can be seen everywhere. It is all done with
great taste and Memphis flair. Dare we say it, but the plaza, lobby and concourse layout bears a certain
resemblance to Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse, as if they lifted the blueprints to the place. But thankfully,
they did not emulate the Pacers' "retro" look, which is so appropriate in the Hoosier State but would be so
totally out of place here. Instead, they developed their own unique look and feel in a musical way.
Again, the seating sections and bowl design have the look and feel of Conseco Fieldhouse. The playing
surface is below grade, so lowest seats are accessed by going down stairways from the concourse. The top
of the upper deck is a bit high compared to other venues, with over 20 rows of seats to the top. Here they
have not one but two separate 360 degree surround ribbon boards, and they match up to dot matrix boards
at the base of the scoreboard, which has four sided video panels. Large stat boards hang high above each
end zone. All seats are colored medium/dark blue.
In keeping with the music theme, we have to make mention of the cool concession canopies, many of which
look like old style 50s diners. Names such as "Spin Pizza", "Flip Side Diner", "Rock Around the Clock Grill",
"Crosstown Cafe" and "Juke Joint Subs" all tie in to the building's theme. From our perch it is just an
amazing food selection... grilled burgers, Memphis wings, bbq specialties, chili dogs, toasted subs, salads,
frozen drinks. But our favorite has to be the barbecued pulled pork nachos, a special Memphis treat. Other
local favorites include the fried catfish and popcorn chicken.
Besides the suites which ring the building at the top of the 100 level and the sidelines of the 200 level, there
are three different premium seating options here, all on the 200 level. Club seats straddle the sideline, and
one end zone has a fine dining restaurant called "Opus", with views of the playing surface from many tables.
At the other end zone is a restaurant called "Blue Note Lounge", and hybrid club seat/suites with ledge
seating and TV monitors at every box offer a unique seating option. Yet another premium restaurant, called
"Backstage", is located at floor level and is available for courtside ticket holders.
Banners and retired numbers
This franchise has had a sorry and wretched history, and in 2004 they finally attained their first playoff berth
and things here are looking bright for the future. Thankfully, the front office didn't manufacture some silly
accomplishment and hang some dopey banner. For now, the rafters remain empty.
Slam dunks, assists, fouls...
Assist - Sharing space with the teams' administrative offices right next door is the Rock and Soul Museum,
offering a great walking tour of this region's rich musical history and many artifacts on loan from the
Slam dunk - and special thanks to Grizz' staffers Don Hardman and Paula Yancey, who took us on a special
tour through the venue to show off the building's finer points and answer questions. We first met up with Don
in Vancouver back in 2001, and as he pointed out, the Grizzlies have the unique distinction of hosting three
official USRT visits... General Motors Place in 2001, the Pyramid in 2002 and now the FedExForum.
Technical - to the "Church of God In Christ" convention, which tied up every hotel room in Memphis and
forced us to find accommodations in and commute from way out in suburban Bartlett.
Slam dunk - to MEMPHIS, which really is a great city and one of our favorite cities to visit. Great downtown,
Beale Street, live music, barbecue, Graceland, Autozone Park, Peabody Place, nice waterfront, just lots to
see and do here, and now this nice new arena. We will come back anytime!
Slam dunk - to the USRT Karma, which delivered the home team a 110-87 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Andrew's favorite, Pau Gasol had 22 points for the Grizz, and at one point they were up by 33 points in
beating up on LA. We put the USRT curse on the Lakers a while back after the disgusting treatment we
endured from their staff at Staples Center and LA is now 0-4 in our presence. Take that, Lakers!!! Oh, but as
far as another good sphincter police story, please read on...
Foul - to the game day staff at FedExForum. To put it bluntly, the ushers here totally suck. Mind you, they will
greet you with a smile, but at every entrance, every alcove, every tunnel to the seating bowl, they position
themselves strategically and in an aggressive stance, almost daring you to try and pass them without
producing a ticket. This nonsense goes on until the final buzzer sounds, they don't let up here in the second
half, or for that matter, even after the game. Yet another usher forbade us from taking ANY photos and
insisted we put our camera way. If you're like us, and want to tour the venue and perhaps take a couple of
snapshots, forget about it. You will be jostled, hassled and turned away, but at least it will be done with a
Side story here - we were walking through the club level with our front office hosts and tried to wander into
the seating area to take a couple of photos. An usher at the top of the staircase started giving the "none shall
pass" routine to us and our guides. Don Hardman explained who he was and who we were and STILL, this
$5 an hour snot is giving a team vice president attitude and hard time. We just kept walking, shaking our
heads in amazement.
And one more side story - two nights after our visit our friends and fellow road trippers Gary Herman and
Mike Casiano from NYC made their first visit here for the Grizzlies/Warriors game. The first thing that came
out of Gary's mouth when they called to compare notes was "nice arena, but what was up with those
*&%*&@ ushers?" So this is not just our take!
Assist - Gotta mention a couple signs on the upper concourse which are designed to mimic radio station
canopies. So what do the Grizzlies come up with? "W-G-R-Z" which happens to be the call letters of our NBC
affiliate here in Buffalo. We already gave Ed Kilgore and Stu Boyar over at Channel 2 the heads up on this
FedExForum earns high marks through and through... great design and architecture, and they could not have
picked a better location, right in the heart of a clean, vibrant and exciting downtown center city and the historic
Beale Street location to boot. Next, this building has its own unique character and soul, thanks to the
thoughtful and splendid placement of murals, artifacts and memorabilia commemorating this region's rich
musical history and genres in a great way. Third, the fan amenities - electronic gizmos, concessions,
eateries and merchandise stores are top notch. From a bricks and mortar standpoint, we can easily place
the FedExForum in the company of the NBA's elite venues in locations such as Indianapolis, Portland and
Dallas. But if you know us and know this site, then you know how much emphasis we put on friendly and
helpful customer service and game day staff. Here in Memphis, where southern hospitality and southern
gentility should be the norm, the Grizz' fail the test and for that we give them big deductions. Fortunately for
them, this is a problem that is totally solvable. We'd be happy to come back to Memphis for another
Food and team store 7.5
Scoreboard and electronics 8.5
Fan support 5.5
Location and neighborhood 9.5
Banners and history 2
In game entertainment 5
Concourses/fan comfort 7.5
Bonus: 2 points for the Rock and Soul Museum in the same building;
2 points for Beall Street