Itinerant Fan

FedExForum

When you think of Memphis, chances are you think of two things: the blues and barbecue. Sports might be a distant third (if that) among visitors to the city, but there are many reasons to check out Memphis’ lone professional sports team, the NBA’s Grizzlies. One of those reasons is that they play in a beautiful facility, FedExForum, which is just steps from the famed Beale Street and many other attractions in the downtown area. The arena is also home to the University of Memphis’ basketball team, a local favorite in its own right.

In large part because they’re Memphis’ only entry in the pro sports scene, the Grizzlies are beloved locally and their familiar two-tone blue color scheme can be found in many, many spots throughout town. On game nights, folks downtown are heading to one of two areas — the music clubs on Beale or the game at FedExForum, so just follow along to get a taste of the Grizzlies experience.

  •   The Approach

    Just about everything a tourist would want to see and do in Memphis is located downtown (well, with the notable exception of Graceland), which makes FedExForum mighty convenient. If you’re staying downtown, the arena is within reasonable walking distance (within a mile, that is) of just about every major hotel in the downtown area. And it’s easy to spot, not far from the hustle and bustle and neon lights of the blues clubs, bars and eateries of Beale Street. (Note: even though the arena lists its address as 191 Beale Street, it’s actually separated from Beale Street by a row of restaurants and bars and a small alley.)

    If you’re not staying downtown and are driving in, there’s lots of parking around — most of the major lots are just south of the arena, including a five-story parking garage that’s attached to the building. The farther south you get from the arena, the shadier the area looks, but stick with the crowds of fans and it shouldn’t be an issue. Oh, and downtown Memphis is quite easy to access via Interstate 40 to the north or I-55 to the south. Pay attention when the downtown exit on either route is approaching, though, lest you wind up across the Mississippi River and in Arkansas, where you’ll have to find a spot to exit and turn around.

    For my part, I was staying downtown, about a seven-or-eight block walk from the arena. It was a rainy Monday night so there weren’t as many folks out on the sidewalks as you might expect, but as I got closer to the arena I noticed an increase in pedestrians, particularly those wearing Grizz gear.

  •   The Build-Up

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    Well, it’s hard NOT to find a place to hang out and eat, drink and/or people-watch before the game, what with so many different night spots around. The three blocks of Beale Street just west of the arena, toward the Mississippi River, are the most active for nightlife — chances are if you’ve read a tourbook or watched a TV show about visiting Memphis, the images you’ve seen include shots of this district. Yes, Memphis is the home of the blues, and live music abounds at many of them, but you’d be surprised how many establishments also cater to a more mainstream crowd. (Honestly, I heard as much Katy Perry and Taylor Swift being blared on loudspeakers as traditional blues guitar licks as I walked down the street.)

    If you’re interested in checking out a quick taste of the city’s music culture, the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum is attached to the arena in a building just to the side of the main entrance on the west side, facing B.B. King Boulevard. Also not far away (across the street, in fact) is the Gibson Guitar factory and museum, where you can witness the production of instruments used by some of the world’s most renowned musicians.

    Memphis has just as solid a food scene as it does a music scene, so by all means sample some of the local fare if you have an opportunity to do so before the game. Some well-known restaurants within a nice stroll of FedExForum worth trying out include: Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous (touristy but famous for its ribs); Dyer’s Burgers (100-year-old local institution that deep-fries its burgers), Gus’s Fried Chicken (which routinely makes lists of best fried chicken restaurants in the country) and the Kooky Canuck (known for giant hamburgers). I’m proud to say that during a 24-hour stay in Memphis I managed to hit two of these spots, Dyer’s and Gus’s, and both were well worth the visit.

  •   The Ambiance

    FedExForum looks like most other arenas on the outside so, to me anyway, it wound up feeling surprisingly big within the seating bowl. There’s a lot of room to roam about on the concourses, and the seating bowl stretches pretty high up across three levels. So if you’re sitting in the upper deck, the basketball court might seem a little far away. Considering that basketball games are the primary event the facility is used for, it’s worth taking into consideration when you’re buying a ticket for an event here. My seat for this game was about eight rows up in the upper deck, and it already felt high. (Not to mention, a guy in the aisle just below felt it necessary to stand for much of the first quarter, seemingly ignoring the “Down in front!” pleas of a few fans behind him, before a nice woman finally went down to ask him to please sit, which he did.)


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    If you walk around, though, you can get a nice feel for the music theme that they’re going for here. You’ll see notes, old album posters and the like decorating the walls — yes, you will see Elvis images in a few spots. Interestingly enough, there’s also an entire section of the concourse devoted to FedEx, the arena’s naming sponsor, complete with a career recruitment desk (come for the basketball, stay to get a new job!). You’ll also find concession stands for the aforementioned Rendezvous, soul food and state fair food — fried Twinkies are on the menu at the latter spot!

    Be sure to go in through the main entrance plaza, which features a marquee advertising the night’s event the way a good concert hall would. And if you look to the right, you’ll get a glimpse at the team’s practice court through a very large window.

    The fans here do get into their Grizzlies, who have rewarded them in recent years with several playoff runs, including a trip to the conference finals in 2013. On this night, the team was wearing red throwback jerseys as an homage to the Memphis Sounds of the old ABA — the city’s previous pro basketball franchise — and small red pennants were being handed out for the occasion. So it was a festive evening despite the fact the arena wasn’t quite filled to capacity (the rainy night might’ve had something to do with it) and the Grizzlies rewarded the home fans with an entertaining win.

The Particulars

Home Teams
Memphis Grizzlies

Address
191 Beale Street
Memphis, TN 38103

Year Opened
2004

Capacity
18,119

Upcoming Events
All times local
Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies
Saturday, October 21, 2017
7:00 pm
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Foo Fighters with The Struts
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
7:30 pm
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Dallas Mavericks at Memphis Grizzlies
Thursday, October 26, 2017
7:00 pm
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Houston Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies
Saturday, October 28, 2017
7:00 pm
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Charlotte Hornets at Memphis Grizzlies
Monday, October 30, 2017
7:00 pm
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